It's happened to everyone: You see what seems like a good price on grapes and eagerly add the bag to your cart. Then, when you get to the register, you learn with dismay that your fruity purchase came out to … $12. Say what?
Because grapes are priced per pound, their total cost can often take unknowing consumers by surprise. Here's the lowdown on when to buy grapes, what to pay, and how to pick the best ones.
When Grapes Are Cheapest
When I told a friend I was writing this story, he immediately said: "Find out why grapes prices swing so much!" Figuring that was a question many people had, I called up Keith Wilson, owner and CEO of King Fresh Produce, a company that grows, packs, and ships table grapes (which are adorably named and different from wine grapes). His response? Like all produce, grape prices depend on seasonality.
Although the industry offers grapes year-round, the peak of the domestic grape season falls in the late summer. That's also when apples, melons, cherries, and berries create a lot of competition in the fruit department. So Wilson said you'll see the best prices on table grapes — as well as the most abundant supply — from about July 15 through September.
In the other months, grapes come from places like Chile, Peru, and Mexico — and between increased shipping costs and a lack of competition in the produce department, prices surge. (Fun fact: Half of the grapes eaten by Americans were grown abroad in 2016, according to the New York Times, with the other half coming almost entirely from California.)
The bottom line: Buy grapes in late summer if you'd like to score a deal — and don't gripe about prices if you're purchasing out of season. As renowned food author Michael Pollan told the Times: "Don't underestimate the ritual of eating seasonally, the pleasure one can have as fruit comes into the market."
How Much Grapes Cost
The average retail price of grapes is $2.09 per pound, according to United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, with most bags weighing in around two pounds.
That's where it's easy to get tricked: Grapes for $3.99 per pound don't sound so bad, but a 2.5-pound bag would set you back nearly $10. (Plus, inedible stems account for approximately four percent of the bag's weight, reports the USDA.)
So in addition to buying seasonally, you should also weigh your grapes. And you are 100 percent allowed to weigh out the amount you want — you don't have to buy an entire bag just as it is. Generally speaking, if you see grapes for $1.99 per pounds, that's a steal!
How to Pick and Store Grapes
To choose quality grapes — without sampling half the bag — here are some tips from Wilson.
- Look for green, healthy stems.
- Avoid any grapes with discoloration.
- Don't assume bigger grapes will be sweeter.
Then, when it comes time to store your grapes, refrigerate them in the bag and only wash them when you're ready to eat. "They have a natural bloom on them that keeps them fresh," explained Wilson. "You should be able to get 20 days of shelf life after you purchase grapes."
And, for a special summer treat, pop a few in the freezer, too.