Vertical Integration and Grape Flavors

Vertical Integration and Grape Flavors

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Vertical integration, the combination in one company of two or more stages of production normally operated by separate companies, has helped lead to success in many facets of the agriculture industry. Harold McClarty, who founded HMC Farms with Mike Jensen, said without vertical integration, his farm would not be able to survive or have nearly the same level of success.  “We would not be in stone fruit if we were not vertically integrated,” McClarty explained. “There are three profit centers: the growing of it, the packing of it and the selling of it. We have all three of those profit centers. Without them we would not be able to survive the tough years.”

Cotton Candy grape clamshell
Cotton Candy grape clamshell (Photo source: Grapery)

McClarty also said the grape industry has made significant strides in flavor profiles in the marketplace. One popular flavor is Cotton Candy, which is grown and sold by Grapery, a company founded by Jack Pandol in 1996. Grapery also grows and sells Gum Drop grapes, Moon Drop grapes, Flavor Pops grapes and more.

The increase in unique flavors, according to McClarty, has helped grapes become a popular snack. “There’s been a revolution in the varieties of grapes grown just over the last five to seven years,” McClarty said. “These new varieties have revolutionized grapes and enabled us to produce more on less. 

To evaluate a grape, McClarty suggests you “look at a berry’s color, crispness and sweetness; these are the things that make a grape taste delicious. It really is a revolution, and we haven’t seen it in the California marketplace as much as we have in the rest of the United States. The retail chains in California just haven’t embraced it as well as some of the really good supermarkets on the East Coast and in the Southeast,” noted McClarty.

“The Other Drought”

“The Other Drought” in America’s #1 Agricultural State

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

California’s agriculture industry is experiencing a severe drought in terms of water shortage; however, this is not the only devastating drought in the state. Harold McClarty, owner of HMC Farms, told California Ag Today a secondary drought—“The Other Drought”—is plaguing California:  the loss of the family farmer.

McClarty explained, “I’ve taken a very liberal definition of the word ‘drought’ and tried to talk about the loss of the small farmer and the culture and values that are instilled in you when you grow up on a small farm. We’re going to lose the next generation [of family farmers] because of the consolidation of these farms.”

HMC Farms,1887 (Source: HMC Farms)
HMC Farms,1887 (Source: HMC Farms)

McClarty, whose company, HMC Farms, a grower, packer, and shipper of tree fruit and table grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, began in 1887 as a small 40-acre family farm, said his farm’s growth is representative of the progressive loss of the family farmer. When HMC Farms officially became an established company in 1987, 100 years after its establishment, he cofounder Mike Jensen began to purchase the property of family farmers who chose to leave the business when their children rejected farming to pursue careers in law, medicine and other fields.

McClarty admitted, “I’m obviously part of the problem, but this is the environment that I live and work in—that enables me to exist.” McClarty said in agriculture you’ve got to be able to do and keep up with all of the factors that go into farming. Unfortunately, the increasing work, pressures and regulations facing small family farms are overwhelming.

McClarty concluded, “the risks are so great, small farmers can’t do it anymore. They can’t keep up, and it’s just not worth it with today’s farm values.”

Of note, HMC Farms was named by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) as one of 18 Food and Beverage Product Innovation Award winners in 2012 for Grape Escape, the company’s washed and ready-to-eat de-stemmed grapes packed in single-serve two-ounce or three-ounce bags. Featuring an 18-day shelf life with no preservatives or additives, Grape Escape “meets the challenge of profitably serving healthy fresh fruit snacks year round,” according to a 2012 NRA news release.