The grape market is going through major changes in Brazil. The strengthening and sophistication that the domestic market has been experiencing in recent years has led many growers to market their produce exclusively in the local market.
"Besides the fact that the domestic market is growing every year, in 2014 we've had a very warm and dry winter, which led to an increase in the country's fruit consumption. Normally, consumption drops during the winter, resulting in excess stock that is stored in cold chambers. This year we do not have the stock, so many growers will export less or will focus solely on the local market," explains Daniel Watanabe, Marketing Director of Labrunier, the country's largest grape producer and exporter.
The higher production cost of grapes for export and the ever stricter requirements imposed by the international market are other factors that make the domestic market even more attractive.
"The acreage for seedless grapes intended for the domestic market has been reduced in recent years, so we can now sell at a better price. In any case, it's very hard to say how much the market has grown, but we have managed to increase prices by a few points above inflation," explains Daniel.
Labrunier exports approximately 35% of its production. Watanabe states that, however attractive the domestic market becomes, the company will always pay special attention to the international market.
"We are the country's only producer with the Rainforest Alliance certification, which we obtained thanks to our high productivity per hectare and the sustainability of our farms. Our main market is Europe, where we work closely with supermarkets that show great interested in sustainable practices, such as Albert Heijn," he affirms.
Adapting to climate change
Labrunier is currently testing over one hundred varieties. The company owns 880 hectares, of which 350 are already planted with the new varieties. One of the goals is for grapes to adapt to climate change, which has been affecting the region in recent years.
"The Thompson, Sugarone and Crimson have low productivity, high cost of production and were very sensitive to climate change. They also require plenty of labour and, nowadays, it is very difficult to get qualified staff willing to work in the fields," he explains.
Some of the new grape varieties
On the fields that the company owns in Petrolinhas it was possible to obtain two harvests a year, but in recent times the rainy season has started arriving one month in advance, lasting from October to April, which made it difficult to harvest in the first semester. This was another motivation to search for new varieties.
"With some of the new rain resistant varieties we can again have two harvests per year; that means we can have a smaller harvest in the first semester, of about 20 tonnes per hectare, and another of 25 to 30 tonnes per hectare in the second semester. It is a large increase in productivity compared to the Thompson, which allowed only for one harvest per year, of 25 to 28 tonnes per hectare."
The trend in these varieties is to achieve a greater number of clusters per plant, but smaller, of 300 to 500 grams, which is an ideal size for their marketing in clamshell containers.
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