Page 14 - EXPORT Magazine November 2012

EDA Office of Foreign Trade • Riverside County, California • USA
November 2012
early 50 years after getting into
the raisin business, Don Kizirian has
developed a product that Japanese
consumers are devouring, making
him a familiar face overseas.
Kizirian, owner of Mojave Gold in
Thermal, sells about 95 percent of his
cluster raisins to Japan, where raisins
dried on the vine are considered
a delicacy. His face is plastered
on some of the packages and can
sometimes be found in store windows,
enticing Japanese consumers to
try the more high-end cousin of
traditional loose raisins sold here.
Picture a bunch of grapes dried, and
that’s what I am packing,” Kizirian
said. “It’s very high-value because
everything is done by hand, but
they are willing to pay for it.”
A big part of cluster raisins success in
Japan is the raisin itself, Kizirian said. The
flame raisins” he sells originate as grapes
grown in the Coachella Valley, where
the growing season is longer and sugars
within the fruit are higher, making for
a sweeter and moister raisin, he said.
Kizirian has been growing grapes for
raisin processing in the Coachella Valley
since 1995, but he got into the business
years earlier in the San Joaquin
Valley after completing his service in
the military. He began packing his own
raisins in Northern California in 1985
and started exporting loose raisins from
there to Japan the following year.
The secret to cluster raisins is the
attention to detail, Kizirian said.
Loose raisins typically are processed
by machinery, but cluster raisins are
Mojave Gold has been Exporting Cluster Raisins
from the Coachella Valley to Japan for a Decade
left on the vine and picked, washed
and packaged by hand, a more labor-
intensive process that produces a unique
product that commands a higher price.
Kizirian has been exporting cluster
raisins from the Coachella Valley to Japan
for a decade. They are served in high-
end Japanese restaurants and other
establishments and often are paired
with wine and a selection of cheeses.
Along the way, Japanese stores began
selling the cluster raisins with his picture
on the package. One advertising effort
involved draping a large banner with
his likeness off a three-story building.
Kizirian said he does not understand
the success of an advertising campaign
built around his likeness, but he said
he reluctantly participates because
it helps to move the product.
It’s kind of embarrassing,
to be honest,” he said.
Kizirian comes from a long family
tradition of raisin farming. His
grandfather came to the U.S. from
Armenia in 1885, and his sons –
including Kizirian’s father – began
farming in the San Joaquin Valley
after WorldWar II. Kizirian worked
there after school each day.
Raisin farming is in the Armenians’
blood,” Kizirian said.
Kizirian bought his own ranch after
getting out of the U.S. Army in
After two decades of farming
and selling his product to packing
houses, he banded together with
other growers to start their own
packing house and began processing
and marketing their own raisins.
Don Kizirian, Supervisor John J. Benoit & Masakatsu Hishinuma