Allan Corrin, the venerable table grape and fruit packer from Reedley, Calif., in his sixth decade of marketing produce, has embarked at age 74 on perhaps the most ambitious project of his career.
It’s branded produce. Sure, every packer has its labels. However, Corrin is taking name identification farther than anyone else has before, and he now is inviting other growers to come along.
The idea is so simple it’s a wonder no one has done it before; give consumers and retailers the same brand of peach, plum and nectarine from June through September.
No, not one label — one brand. They are King Midas yellow plum, Holiday red plum, Easy Cut freestone nectarine and Celebrity peach.
"The thing we want is for the supermarket produce manager and his staff to know our fruit by name so when the consumer comes in to ask for it, they’ll know what to tell her," said Corrin. "So often produce people only know that they open boxes and fill shelves. They don’t know one variety from another and therefore cannot tell the consumer what he or she bought the week before."
Corrin has developed some two dozen patented tree fruit varieties that will be marketed under those four umbrella brands.
"If the consumer goes into the store in June and buys a King Midas plum, she can go back the following week, in July and even into late August and there will be a King Midas plum on the retail shelf," said Corrin.
The veteran produce dealer who began his career in the Los Angeles produce market 51 years ago, said there will be subtle difference between varieties marketed under the Corrin Produce Sales brands, but "those differences will be no different from what you get from the same peach grown in sandy soil vs. heavy clay soils. The consumer will not tell the difference between varieties."
Corrin holds the patent on those varieties developed by legendary horticulturist Tom Chamberlain, who developed the famous Sun line of fruit. More importantly, Corrin holds the copyright on the names.
Corrin remains a large Ruby Seedless grower and shipper. He tried to corner the market on that table grape like he is doing with his stone fruit. However, the variety was never patented by the University of California. Dr. Harold Olmo developed Ruby Seedless in 1939.
Corrin for years marketed Ruby Seedless by contracting with growers to produce a top quality table grape, but since he could not patent it and the university never did, it eventually got away from Corrin and now Ruby Seedless is marketed by everyone in a wide array of qualities.
"None of the fruit in this program will wind up like Ruby Seedless or like the Sun World Angelino plum," said Corrin. "Sun World did a great job of promoting that plum, but the year after the patent ran out there were twice as many Angelino plums on the market has Sun World ever planted."
Corrin’s patents may run out, but copyrights never do.
Corrin now has 1,200 acres planted to the collection plum, peach and nectarines varieties and is now looking for more growers to join him.
However, when Corrin contracts with new growers, it will not be the stone fruit business as usual. There will be no chance of oversupplies killing the market. Supplies will be regulated based on demand.
Growers do not have to pay a royalty until fruit is shipped when Corrin gets a penny per pound in royalty. "We will not start making money until the grower starts making money," he said. "There will be no up front royalty for planting the trees we supply."
All fruit will be marketed through Corrin Sales.
"Ito Packing here in Reedley has done a pretty good job marketing its Jim varieties and Primo uses its name on all varieties, but what we are doing goes beyond that. The variety name will remain before the consumer all through the summer and eventually year-round," Corrin said.
Corrin’s plums, peaches and nectarines will be marketed to high-end retailers and food service companies and none of the fruit will reach consumers until it is mature and tasty to eat.
If there is not enough fruit to fill a market window, Corrin said contracted growers would be offered additional acreage. He pledges never to contract for more than the market will take at a profit.
"Right now we have some windows that need filling, especially for the King Midas, a big yellow plum that is very popular. We are looking for new growers."
He also expects demand for his nectarines to increase, especially in the food service industry. "There are very few freestone nectarines today, but I think there is a tremendous market for a freestone nectarine in the restaurant business. A restaurant owner cannot afford to pay someone to dig the pits out of a traditional nectarine and that is why it is not used," he said.
Bucks industry trend
Corrin doesn’t pull any punches when he says he is bucking the longstanding industry trend of nurseries introducing new varieties without giving marketing a thought. "When a new variety is released, pretty soon everyone sees others making a profit and they plant the new variety. The market is flooded. The bottom falls out; trees are pulled out and the cycle begins anew.
"Very few if any nurseries understand marketing — they do not understand supply and demand. Probably the biggest injustice in this industry is that the nursery industry has taken advantage of the grower over years," said Corrin.
The longtime produce man said he is not selling an untested idea. He has been developing commercial orchards for seven years and has taken his new line of fruit to taste panels. If it doesn’t pass muster for quality, it did not go into Corrin’s program.
"These fruit varieties will go to market with high sugar and a good sugar/acid ratio. And they are going to be uniformly handled and marketed," he said. "It will not matter what time of year it is — we don’t have to beat anyone. All we have to do is deliver a quality product."
This is no piecemeal deal. Corrin wants to contract with a grower for no less than 40 acres. "We will not have any of this two-, three- or four-acre blocks. We need critical mass to fill the windows."
And, Corrin hopes those windows will be open year round. The first of his varieties are coming out of quarantine in Chile where they will be grown and marketed by Corrin Chile.
"There may be some shoulders in the year-round market where we cannot fill, but there are places in Mexico and Central America where we are looking to grow fruit to fill those shoulders," he said.
To entice growers into his program, Corrin has adopted a unique growing technique. Make that "conversion" technique.
Of his 1,200 acres of trees, 400 were planted in former vineyards — without the typical bulldozing.
Normally when growers replant a vineyard or orchard, they start from scratch.
Corrin has successfully developed high-density orchards leaving the vineyard trellising and irrigation systems in place.
He saws off the vines at ground level and chips them up, spreading the mulch back on the vineyard. Roundup kills the vines.
"The trellis system stays in place for several years, actually helping to train the trees. We replace the vineyard drippers with fan jet sprayers for the trees," he said.
Spacing remains the same for the trees as the vines, 12-foot wide rows with 8 feet between trees. "There are 400 plus trees per acre compared to the typical 125 to 130 trees per acre orchard."
"By converting a vineyard to an orchard, a grower can save up to $3,000 over what it would cost him to bulldoze and burn, replace the irrigation system and plant," said Corrin.
There is a huge amount of biomass still in the soil from the vineyard, and the vine root systems provide pathways for the new trees as the vine roots decay, he said.
"You put young trees in that environment and they grow like crazy," he said.
It is a dwarf orchard with trees only slightly taller than a man.
"The U.S. is way behind the rest of the world in developing high density orchards," he said.
Ladders now out
Corrin said U.S. farmers can no longer afford to put men on ladders in orchards. Insurance cost has made that prohibitive.
"All pruning is done by hand by people standing on the ground. The old vineyard wires are used to force lower branches down at a 45-degree angle. You don’t have to go up the tree three feet before finding any fruit wood," he said.
There is a method to Corrin’s perceived madness in wanting growers to convert vineyards to stone fruit orchards. "There are too many late season red seedless table grapes and a lot of growers are looking at something else. Converting vineyards to orchards would be ideal," he said.
To further convict his peers he has gone off the deep end, Corrin is convinced using the technique to convert wine grapes on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley is practical.
"You would never put tall fruit trees on the West Side because of the wind. With this system I would not be afraid to try peaches and plums. I would not try nectarines because they scar too easily," he said.
"I have talked with some of the growers on the West Side who are bleeding from low wine grape prices and low commodity prices," he said. "I think this would work either converting a vineyard or starting from scratch."