By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Congratulations to IFG, International Fruit Genetics LLC, for celebrating 20 years of the Cotton Candy™ grape! IFG is dedicated to breeding table grapes, sweet cherries, and raisin varieties that defy the odds of flavor. Still, none would have been possible without the first highly flavored novelty grape: the infamous Cotton Candy™ grape.
Although the table grape is recognized worldwide today, it has humble beginnings. In 2001, Jack Pandol, The Stoller Family, and Dr. David Cain, the lead plant geneticist, started IFG. Later in 2003, they tasted something new while visiting the University of Arkansas plant breeding researchers. Joining forces with John Clark, the University of Arkansas horticulture program director, Dr. Cain brought the new variety back to the Delano test fields. Soon after, the Cotton Candy™ grape was born. Initially, the plan was to name it the “toffee grape” for its toffee-like flavor until a visiting school came to taste the new variety, and one of the students decided that it tasted just like cotton candy. The new name, created by students, was perhaps the most influential and enticing new fruit name since.
Today the variety is celebrated as the first table grape traditionally bred for a highly specialized flavor profile and has blazed the trail for the rest. IFG has claimed patents for forty-eight table grapes, ten sweet cherries, and one raisin variety. These specialized grape varieties include Candy Hearts™, Candy Snaps™ (a strawberry-flavored grape), and the Julep™ grape (a spicy black grape that pairs well with cheese).
“One of the things we are most proud of is that it’s given new reasons for shoppers to get excited about fruit,” says Andy Higgins, CEO of IFG. It’s inspiring IFG every day to be a part of a healthy lifestyle by giving kids options that are “not just processed candies and snack bars.”
IFG is committed to having at least one variety available every day of the year and grows in 18 different countries, 13 of which produce the Cotton Candy™ grape. Upwards of 34,000 tons of Cotton Candy™ move throughout main markets yearly and are available at high-profile grocery stores such as Sprouts, Whole Foods, Costco, Albertsons, and Aldi.
‘”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 their unique flavor that is enjoyed by all. It’s a variety of table grapes 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.”
As Dr. Cain has retired, the team is now led by Dr. Chris Owens, and they continue to push the boundaries of flavor in table grapes, raisins, and sweet cherries. IFG is very proud to be celebrating the success of the Cotton Candy™ grape this year. The grape is “a worldwide symbol of fruit innovation” and represents now 20 years of traditional non-GMO breeding for specialized tastes in table grapes.