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US: Slow start for South American grape imports
The South American table grape season got off to a slow start, as growers encountered cooler than expected conditions to start off the growing season. As a result, volume is down for this stage of the year.
"Grape volumes from Chile and Peru have been light thus far," said Rennan Victor, of Southern Sun. "As a point of reference, we have so far seen 2,500,000 boxes of grapes shipped from Chile. This compares with 7,600,000 boxes at the same time last year. One of the reasons for this is the cooler than average weather that growers have experienced at the start of the season."
Peru has seen similar cooler conditions, and the North of the country is still recovering from the flood damage of last year. "We are seeing the same thing happening in Peru," Victor continued. "There has been an incredible decrease in the northern Peru of about 70%. This is mainly the result from last year's flood damage. In the south, the season has also been pushed late because of the cooler weather."
Later grape varieties showing favor
Growers in Chile have been decreasing their volume of early grape varieties. They have been discouraged from making an earlier entrance to the market, due to supply from California extending much further than usual.
"Growers in northern Chile have been pulling out Flames and Perlettes," Victor noted. "These are early season varieties and part of the reason we have received fewer shipments up to this point. The growers say they are tired of competing with the ever-later California season, as well as the early season grape shipments from Peru."
Victor observed that instead, Chilean growers have opted to plant new varieties of later season grapes. He expects to see the results of these new plantings in the coming months. "New varieties have been planted in place of the early season varieties," he said. "From February, good volume of later season grapes like Magentas will enter the market. There is a very good chance the South American season will extend later this year."
Market expected to continue to be strong
As supply has been down, the market is seeing good prices. Suppliers also expect the market to remain strong for an extended period this year, given the slow build up in volume. "Prices are in the range of $30 - $35, with some premium and larger sizes seeing upwards of $36, $38," Victor said. "It's a very favorable market. The fruit is very spread out this year in terms of timing and therefore, we expect the market to remain high throughout the season."
Shipments are not presenting any issues for exporters either, with the slow start providing plenty of container capacity. "The boats are coming in okay and there is plenty of capacity because of the amount of later fruit," Victor added. "At the moment they are 85% - 90% full."
Victor also noted that quality has been very high this year compared with previous years. There is also not much arriving in the way of smaller sized fruit. "Growers have been doing a better job at shipping out quality instead of for volume and we are seeing that in the excellent quality fruit coming through," he said. "They are also not sending the smaller sized fruit, what we call 300s or S. The market for them is very poor in the United States so they are selling them domestically instead."
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