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The premium on new grape varieties is becoming bigger and biggerImported grapes into the U.S. are seeing a slight surge in volume.
“Right now we’re importing both Chilean and Peruvian grapes and it’s the peak season from Chile,” says Jared Lane of Stevco, the marketer for Grapeman Farms. Chile started shipping into the U.S. as of January 1st while Peru began mid-December. “Right now in Chile, the later ranches will end a little early, maybe one to two weeks. But they’ll probably peak for another four weeks,” says Lane. “With the large crop in Chile, we didn’t expect the fruit to ripen early, but hopefully it’ll be a good transition between Chile and the start of the Mexican season.” Mexico meanwhile, which competes directly with the Chilean import market, could be early in timing this year, though Lane adds that things could change between now and harvest.
Green grapes from Sevco
Newer varieties please
What both Lane and other grape growers and importers are seeing though on the demand side of the equation is that consumers are continuing to ask for newer varieties of grapes. “The newer varieties are in higher demand and the older varieties are in a lot less demand,” says Lane. “The premium is becoming bigger and bigger for the newer varieties. I see the older varieties becoming extinct here in the next 5-10 years. The new varieties are also so much more efficient with the older ones—there are better yields, they should be a little cheaper to grow, they’re less labor intensive. The market isn’t paying to grow the older varieties.”
Over at Shafter, Ca.-based Grapery, which focuses on California grapes, Jim Beagle also sees the same thing. “Overall demand has been equally steady but there continue to be shifts out of older varieties to newer varieties that have better traits for consumers,” says Beagle. “There are a variety of both public and private breeding programs in California with grapes that vary in color, timing of ripeness, size, they can be more consistently colored or better tasting than the more limited choices we had in the past.”
At Grapery, it’s had continued growing success with its Moon Drop grapes, a longer black grape. “It’s only been on the market for three years and as retailers learn more about the grape, they’re more willing to commit to larger programs and then more consumers have opportunity to buy it and it’s a cycle built on each other,” Beagle says.
Grapery's Moon Drop grapes
Meanwhile on the pricing side, pricing is characterized as relatively consistent with last year’s pricing. “There’s quite a bit more later volume from Peru than there was last year,” says Lane. “And because of that later volume, pricing has been more challenging.”
In the meantime with California wrapped up, imports will continue to grow in the next little while. “I expect the next four weeks to have a lot of supply of grapes—and I think they’ll be the better grapes from Chile,” says Lane.
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