grapes on vines
Thompson Seedless grapes. (Photo: Macks Manu / Shutterstock.com)

By Melissa Nagel, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice 

In a deal announced earlier this year, Special New Fruit Licensing (SNFL)—a global leader in table grape breeding and development—announced plans to combine with International Fruit Genetics (IFG). The transaction, which is currently under regulatory review, will bring IFG’s and SNFL’s industry-leading research and development, along with its breeding programs together, creating new opportunities for innovation and expanded market access for California’s table grape growers.

SNFL has had a close relationship with California’s table grape growers for more than two decades and is well-respected within the industry for its breeding program focused on health benefits, disease tolerance, and other important grower traits for common table grape varieties. California-based IFG has spent the last 20 years developing its own impressive breeding program, focused on consumer traits and flavor, which has led to the development of new and unique flavored varieties, such as cotton candy grapes, that have become popular with consumers across the U.S.

As it is becoming more important to growers to combine these once distinct approaches to breeding traits, the two companies believe that this merger will provide Central Valley growers with the best of both worlds. More importantly, the merger will also expand the ability for growers to increase consumer access and consumption of table grapes.

While the deal has raised eyebrows among a small number of grape growers, many in the industry see the huge benefits and both companies have stressed that this is a win for all sides. SNFL growers will maintain access to innovative technologies as well as to an entirely new portfolio of current and future grape varieties. Existing IFG growers are also set to benefit from the merger, as they’ll be exposed to SNFL’s innovations with varieties to be released soon that focus on disease resistance and antioxidant content in table grapes.

“Expanded market access for growers to sell value-added products while at the same time being able to use new technology to grow more sustainably and efficiently is key to the industry’s future,” said Pete Hronis of Hronis, Inc. “This merger will enable farmers to do both.”

The companies have also sought to assure growers and consumers alike that there is no intention to cease support for any of the existing SNFL or IFG varieties or cease the development of any current breeding or research and development programs. The companies say this transaction is focused on supporting existing varieties and enabling more investment to enhance and improve new varieties.

“The merger will level the playing field for California table grape growers looking to grow new varietals,” said Jack Campbell of Four Star Fruit. “Now more than ever, we need to invest in advancing our industry to develop disease-resistant grapes that are high in antioxidants, expand unique flavors, and give our consumers access to healthy, high-quality fruit.”

For consumers, the companies say the increased investment in research and development following the merger will lead to additional table grapes on the shelf at grocery stores and expand consumer access to high-quality, affordable, healthy food. The combination of the two breeding programs also promises to enable the development of the breeding techniques necessary to face the challenge of more severe climate conditions and reduce the need for pesticides, allowing growers to consistently deliver a quality product.

Dr. Andrew Walker of UC Davis said “We are at the precipice of a new chapter for table grapes with the merger of SNFL and IFG. This union will catapult the Central Valley towards deeper industry expertise, expanding the R&D to develop more resilient, cost-effective varieties with improved taste and quality.”

In the days ahead, all eyes will be on the exciting opportunities at hand for the Central Valley’s table grape growers.