The co-op’s mission “is to take the Concord grape to more places, to more people and more applications” around the world, said Wayne Lutomiski, Welch’s VP of International and Global Ingredients.
He explained that as a primarily finished consumer goods maker with 145 years of experience, Welch’s recognizes that the growing consumer demand for healthier, better-for-you products with clean labels is creating an opportunity to expand the use of the Concord grape, which is a perfect fit for these trends.
“We are the original superfood,” exclaimed Lutomiski, noting that Concord grape juice has more polyphenols than blueberry, acai, cranberry and black cherry juice – which are all prized for the health benefits.
In fact, with an average concentration of more than 2.5 polyphenolic mg GAE/ML, only pomegranate juice has more at about 3.75 polyphenolic mg GAE/ML, according to Welch’s.
“With so many benefits that are on trend, we knew we needed to find a way to get it into more applications,” so Welch’s launched the ingredient division with a cross-functional team that could seek out partnerships that would allow it to move the Concord grape beyond juice, jellies, purees and concentrates.
The division’s first partnership is with Taura Naturals, which helped Welch’s concentrate the nostalgic taste of Concord grape in FruitWorx fruit pieces and pastes that can be used in nutrition bars, confections, baking products and other dry goods for the first time.
The co-op also already uses its juice blends as an ingredient in cocktail mixes, smoothies and other juices. Its concentrates are used in dairy products, such as yogurt, cream spreads and ice cream. The purees can be in hard candies, gum and chocolate. While the purees and concentrates can be used as a filling or glaze.
In development, are plans to make a powder from the grape’s by-product, including the skin and seeds, Lutomski said. These powders could be used as a natural color, which consumers also increasingly want, he added.
Welch’s also is exploring ways to use the Concord grape’s essence by capturing the fragrance that could be used in products, such as candles, Lutomski said.
“There is a big opportunity there, and these other products will come out in the near future,” but for now the company is focused on its purees, concentrates and partnerships with FruitWorx, Lutomski said. He explained the division does not want to grow too fast and risk quality suffering.
Welch’s also is rolling out new applications slowly so it has sufficient resources to expand its global footprint at the same time, Lutomski said.
Last October, Welch’s signed an exclusive distribution and supply agreement with Wild Juices to take its Concord and Niagara concentrates, purees and other ingredients to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
In the past month, Welch’s launched its first product in Saudi Arabia and it is talking to distributors in China and Southeast Asia for deals it hopes to close by the end of August, said Lutomski.
Based on the strength of Welch’s brand name, the co-op may launch its first FruitWorx product in Japan before it does in the U.S., he added.
To continue its ambitious growth plans, Welch’s seeks partnerships, like those it has with Taura Naturals and Wild Juices, Lutomski said.
“Because we are a co-op, we are owned by our farmers, so our goal is to increase the value of that grape for those farmers and partnership is a nice way to do that without having to build that massive infrastructure,” he explained.
Potential partners need to have the basics right, such as a distribution system, sales network and financial resources, Lutomski said. “But most importantly,” he added, “we need to share the same values and … the same mission,” and the same passionate about spreading awareness of the Concord grape.