A cooler spring has delayed California grape harvest by about 7 to 10 days. Although the impact on total volume is expected to be minimal, the consequences of a more compressed season are being felt. “Because of the slow maturity of green grapes, there currently aren’t enough supplies to meet the demand,” says Sarah Bistritz with Sutherland, S.A. “That delay has resulted in a clear gap between the Coachella Valley and the Central Valley,” she added.
Left picture: Sugar Drop grapes. To the right Sarah Bistritz and Max Sutherland with Sutherland, S.A.
Unable to fulfill demand
Right now, California is the only player in the market for green grapes. Other countries that typically fill in the gaps have finished their harvests. Mexico still has some Flames (red), but for green varieties like Pristine, Autumn Crisp, and Sweet Globe the market is short. “Between Coachella and the Central Valley, production is down about 90 percent for the time of year,” shared Bistritz. For Sutherland it means the company is unable to fulfill its export demand. “We’re not even filling 10 percent of it.” In addition to a supply gap, demand has also increased due to several programs that have been created in the US during the pandemic. Programs including the supply of commodity boxes to non-profit organizations intend to secure access to fresh produce but have also put a strain on demand.
The situation of demand exceeding supplies is expected to turn around in the next ten days. “We are seeing ideal weather now and the grapes are sizing up with good brix and color,” said Bistritz. This week, we are finishing our Sweet Globe and Valley Pearl, and bigger volumes of export quality Sugar Drops and Sugarones are being tested. “Once volumes come on late July, the situation will go back to normal and there will be too much volume,” she added. Total California production is estimated to be 105 million boxes this year.
Shipping is back to normal
Sutherland considers itself a leader in the export market with China, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan being their main export markets for California grapes. “We are one of only a handful of companies that inspect vineyards daily, selecting grapes in the field for our clients, overseeing packing, QC at the sheds during loading, and offering the option of handling all logistics door-to-door for our customers,” Bistritz commented. The company has been shipping grapes by air for the past month and started packing grapes for ocean freight to Asia last week. Shipping lanes and airline freight capacity have almost normalized in the past month, resulting in a strong outlook for the season.
Pouch bag with Frozen II packaging.
New packaging designs for pouch bags have resulted in lots of positive feedback. “Many overseas clients are excited by the new offerings of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and NBA Basketball labels available this season.” They are available in addition to Sutherland’s premium labels that include Smiling Buddha, Panda Grapes, Golden Dragon, and Royal Crane. Overseas customers mostly prefer Premium Styro cartons packed in pouch bags. For the first time this year, Sutherland’s grapes will be available in the Canadian market, where the main packaging for grapes is cardboard as well as clamshells with the Disney themes.
NBA labels for the Canadian market.