During the 1990’s the Western Australian table grape industry, which was almost entirely located in the Swan Valley near Perth, was undergoing significant change with new varieties to meet consumer demand. The industry was also expanding rapidly into new production regions such as Carnarvon in the Gascoyne, the mid-west near Geraldton and the south-west including Harvey, Donnybrook and Busselton-Margaret River.
By the late 1990’s production had increased significantly however retailers were encountering increasing complaints from consumers about sour grapes and grapes with little or no taste, which ultimately led to declining sales. Industry recognised that something needed to be done to reverse this trend.
The Agricultural Produce Commission, Table Grape Producers' Committee (established under the Agricultural Produce Commission Act 1988), commissioned the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development to conduct consumer studies to determine what consumers looked for when purchasing table grapes, particularly in relation to maturity. These studies were conducted with consumer groups in various locations throughout the state, including retail outlets and the Food Science and Technology laboratory at Curtin University of Technology, and focused on the most popular varieties at the time.
As a result of these studies, legislated minimum standards of maturity for table grapes sold in Western Australia were introduced in 2001to prevent sour grapes being presented for sale, ensuring consumer satisfaction and encourage repeat sales.
Under the regulations, for table grapes intended for consumption to be legally sold as fresh fruit in Western Australia they must be “mature”. "Mature" means the grapes must meet or exceed the minimum standard of maturity approved by the Deputy Director General, Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development, for the relevant variety, when tested in a manner approved by the Deputy Director General. If the fruit does not meet the minimum standard it must not be sold as fresh fruit and if it cannot be sold for processing it may have to be destroyed.
Minimum standards of maturity are set for each variety and are reviewed annually. The Table Grape Producers’ Committee, producers and other stakeholders are notified of the standards once approved and apply from 1 September to 31 August.
Inspections are carried out by authorized inspectors under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM), to ensure compliance. These inspections are conducted at the central markets in Canning Vale, distribution centres and wholesale and retail outlets throughout the state.
The minimum standards of maturity for table grapes program is funded by industry via the Table Grape Producers’ Committee.