Grapes rule the fruit basket as shine muscats take the cake
Choi Won-sik, 47, runs a 1.8-hectare (4.6-acre) vineyard for shine muscat grapes, a sweeter version of seedless green grapes, in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang. It was originally a vineyard for Campbell grapes that his parents ran for 30 years, but Choi started raising shine muscat grapes there since 2017.
“These days, price of shine muscat grapes is about 10-times the price of Campbell grapes,” said Choi. “Choosing shine muscat grapes over Campbell grapes was a good decision.”
According to Choi, his family earns some 500 million won ($427,000) annually from the vineyard.
In Korea, apples and tangerines were traditional favorites. But grapes have slowly been taking the crown largely driven by the growing popularity of shine muscat grapes.
Shine muscat grapes, which were first developed in Japan, started gaining public attention around 2018 in Korea for their crunchy texture, sweetness and aroma. The seedless grapes have high sugar content, averaging a Brix value of between 18 and 19 degrees compared to 14 from Kyoho grapes.
Grapes were the most popular fruit in terms of sales at Emart last year, followed by apples, strawberries and tangerines. In 2019, apples were No.1 and grapes were in third place. Until 2017, grapes were not even in the top 5.
With the growing popularity of grapes, Korea has 13,388 hectares of vineyards now compared to 2018’s 12,795 hectares, according to data provided by the Korea Rural Economic Institute. Of that, 3,579 hectares, or 26.7 percent, is used for shine muscat grapes. In 2018, only 7.4 percent of the total was used for shine muscat grapes, while 14.5 percent was used for them in 2019.
Consumers these days prefer fruit they can eat without peeling, which is also a contributing factor driving the popularity of shine muscat grapes, retailers say.
At Emart, the sale of fruit that have peels has declined. Sales of pineapples decreased 40.2 percent as of July compared to the beginning of the year while sales of grapefruits fell 25.2 percent and tangerines 6.4 percent.
“Recently, more people avoid buying fruit with peels,” said Emart’s spokesperson.
Sales of grapes surged 87.9 percent, while sales of tomatoes soared 27.1 percent and strawberries 20.2 percent.
Young shoppers are especially enthusiastic about luxury fruits. They buy them and take photos of them and share the photos on their social media.
Premium strawberries are also flying off shelves recently, Emart said. These include king’s berry strawberries, which are almost as big as a person’s palm, and white strawberries, which are particularly sweet and have a unique whitish color. A 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) pack of king's berries is priced at 27,000 won online and a 450-gram pack of white strawberries goes for 20,000 won. Normal strawberries can be found just about anywhere for 8,000 won for a 500-gram pack.
Shine muscat grapes are a popular gift ahead of the Chuseok holidays. Emart increased the available volume of shine muscat grapes by 40 percent this year.
“In the past, apples and pears were the two most popular fruits for Chuseok gifts, but these days people prefer seedless and sweeter fruit,” said Jeon Jin-bok, a grape buyer at Emart.
BY LEE SOO-KI, SARAH CHEA [firstname.lastname@example.org]