The first obstacle came from the Indian grapes which supply the EU market from February till early May until Egypt begins in late May. India shipped a record volume in 2017 surpassing an unprecedented figure of 8000 containers of white seedless grapes. As such volume was larger than the EU market could absorb, stocks of Indian grapes lasted throughout the Egyptian window causing severe competition for Egyptian fruit and putting considerable pressure on prices.
Second, the Egyptian season started ten days later than usual due to cool weather before harvest. While the fruit was visibly mature early on, sugar levels were low and forced growers to wait until they were ready for harvest. Consequently, the majority of the Egyptian crop was harvested in a period of ten days, creating huge traffic on logistical routes to Europe and additional competition among Egyptian exporters.
The third challenge came from Spain, Egypt's second competitor and the subsequent grapes origin. Contrary to general expectations, Spain started early with its first grapes reaching European retailers in the first week of July. The beginning of Spain signals the immediate end of the Egyptian season because supermarkets naturally favour EU produce. For Egypt, the early Spanish harvest was the straw that broke the camel's back as Egyptian grapes had to be sold at stock-clearing low prices to make way for fresh Spanish fruit.
"The Egyptian industry cannot battle on three fronts" said Dr. Mohamed AF Ragab, Vice Chairman of Ragab Farms. "An Indian oversupply coupled with an Egyptian delay and Spanish earliness made us miss considerable sales opportunities and resulted in a very difficult season," he added.
Ragab concludes, "Seasons like this one serve as a reminder of the dire need for Egypt to diversify in alternative markets and reduce its reliance on Europe. In addition to Gulf countries, an interest in Egyptian grapes seems to be growing in Asia and could create good opportunities once we understand the needs of this huge market. Moreover, the recently signed grapes protocol between China and Egypt will be a huge step forward."
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Mohamed AF Ragab
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