BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – International Fruit Genetics LLC (IFG), the world’s largest table grape breeder, which boasts 48 patented table grape varieties, 10 patented sweet cherry varieties and its first patented raisin variety, is commemorating the 20th anniversary of the breeding of the Cotton Candy grape.
To date, the Cotton Candy table grape has become a worldwide symbol of fruit innovation. It surprised millions – adults and children, alike – with its toffee-like taste, raising the bar for table grape flavors beyond what consumers had come to expect. It was the first table grape variety in the highly flavored novelty category to hit the market.
The Cotton Candy grape was first naturally bred in 2003 by geneticist, horticulturalist, and co-founder of IFG Dr. David Cain, but it took 10 more years before the Cotton Candy grape started to appear in retail stores. Since then, Cotton Candy grape sales and popularity have flourished. Currently, Cotton Candy table grapes are grown in 13 countries with more than 34,000 US-tons produced and sold in main market destinations.
Top level retailers from around the world sell the popular Cotton Candy grape including Sprouts, Costco, Sam’s Club, Tesco, Whole Foods, Kroger, Marks & Spencer, Albertsons, Safeway and more. The grapes have been featured in films, international documentaries, and national media coverage including ABC and NPR.
“Today’s consumer wants new and unique flavors that provide a memorable eating experience. Cotton Candy grapes were one of the first products in the produce aisle to deliver this type of experience, and Sprouts was excited to participate in its launch,” said Matthew DeCeault, Innovation Manager, Produce, Sprouts. “As our top selling specialty grape, Sprouts is proud to carry this variety on shelf and excited for the next generation of IFG grape releases required to fuel growth in the table grape category. Cheers to Dr. Cain and the team at IFG!”
Similar sentiment from retail partners has been echoed across the pond from Paul Farmer of Marks and Spencer (M&S) in the United Kingdom.
“M&S is extremely proud to be the pioneer of Cotton Candy grapes in the U.K. market alongside IFG. Cotton Candy grapes continues to be a favorite of M&S customers – especially children or anyone with a sweet tooth,” Farmer said. “With greater availability due to wider global planting, we are incredibly pleased to see the Cotton Candy grape being featured on our shelves throughout the year.”
The story of the Cotton Candy table grape began in 2003, a few years after Dr. Cain started IFG with the goal of producing delicious and novel table grapes.
Researchers from the University of Arkansas’s fruit breeding program were showcasing a purple Concord grape, that had a certain flavor that intrigued Dr. Cain. He decided to join forces with John Clark, the program’s director and a horticulture professor within the university’s System Division of Agriculture and in 2003, IFG signed an agreement that would change the course of history. Dr. Cain then went to work in cross-pollinating their grapes with a dozen California varieties on his test fields in Delano, California.
A few years later, when seedlings were fruiting, a group of school children touring the IFG facilities were given a chance to taste the grapes and immediately the students said the grapes tasted like “cotton candy” — thus a legendary table grape was born.
“David wanted to bring back the natural flavors of grapes, which had been stripped away by decades of breeding the fruit to withstand the challenges of shipping and storage,” said Andy Higgins, CEO, IFG. “His goal was to offer consumers a whole new way to enjoy grapes and offer customers exceptional tasting varieties for table-grapes that one sees with other fruit such as apples and other fruits with more varieties and choices.
“We are very consumer-oriented at IFG – we want our customers to have the best tasting experience possible, so when we naturally breed our grapes, we start with the consumer expectation in mind and then work our way backwards,” Higgins continued. “These trends have taught us that among younger consumers, there is room for flavored varieties like Cotton Candy grapes.”
“It’s not just a variety, it’s a phenomenon,” said James Cackett, Tesco, Technical Manager Produce – Citrus, Grape, Melon, Pineapple. “Cotton Candy grapes buck all the trends with its unique flavor that is enjoyed by all. It’s a variety of table grape that the customers can never get enough of. I have seen the evolution of the variety turn global and customer reaction to Cotton Candy grapes has been amazing, something that turned mainstream table grapes into a family favorite. There are not many varieties that resonate with Tesco customers, but Cotton Candy grapes are certainly one.”
Headquartered in Bakersfield, Calif., IFG is the world’s largest premium fruit-breeding company. Founded in 2001, the Company is internationally recognized for its top quality, non-GMO fruit varieties in the table grape, cherry and raisin industries that were pioneered by the Company’s co-founder and former Lead Plant Breeder, world-renowned fruit scientist Dr. David Cain. Following Dr. Cain’s retirement, the team is now led by Dr. Chris Owens. IFG patents and licenses its varieties to worldwide marketers and growers, with licensees in 18 countries and its fruit actively marketed in over 30 countries. For more information, visit www.ifg.world.