A container of organically grown Early Sweet white seedless table grapes is due to shortly depart for Europe from Cape Town Harbour. This is the opening to Northern Cape grower Carpe Diem’s new grape season, a “short but intense” campaign that usually runs for eight to ten weeks in which they ship ten to twelve containers per week, explains Magdalena du Plessis, newly-appointed table grape sales manager.
Picking of organic Early Sweet (photos supplied by Carpe Diem)
“Carpe Diem is completely organic and I think many people, both overseas and here in South Africa, feel attracted to buy organic produce if they can, especially now with the pandemic. The table grape market is a mature market, and organic grapes make it interesting.”
At the moment the market in Europe is rather empty of organic grapes, with the exception of some Peruvian grapes, and Carpe Diem’s crop is looking good, Magdalena says.
“We don’t have enough volumes, though, especially now before Christmas. We wish we had much, much more.”
Extending the availability calendar
What the organic grape market really needs, Magdalena notes, is a twelve month supply of organic grapes and optimally, always a white seedless line open and always a red seedless line open.
“Now we start up the season after a bit of a gap of grapes on the market, and you lose momentum and you lose sales until you start to get back into it again,” she says.
“The consumer likes to know every week they can get organic grapes.”
In fact, she believes that many retailers would like to switch over to organic grapes, but are constrained by limited supply.
Carpe Diem has been strongly investing in expanding the season on either side, hopefully starting a week earlier next year with Early Sweet planted in a vineyard with a temperature difference to the riverside vineyards.
This will also be their first crop of IFG’s Sweet Celebration™ and Sweet Globe™, varieties that promise to have the shelf life needed for successful organic marketing.
As a former fruit buyer for retail, she has noted an increased interest in red seedless, largely driven by appearance. Apart from Sweet Celebration™ , they have also established new blocks of Allison and Timco (neither in production yet), in all 45 hectares of organic table grapes.
An additional 100,000 cartons over the next 2 to 3 years
They removed all of their blocks of Prime. They have big volumes of Thompson Seedless that overlap with the last of their Evans Delight, a South African cultivar bred by Hoekstra Farms.
Evans Delight grapes colouring up
“Currently we produce around 170,000 4.5kg cartons per year. Carpe Diem is going to develop a lot volume-wise within the next two to three years, with an additional 100,000 cartons from where we are today. That’s exciting and challenging!”
Canada & US interesting organic grape markets
The shelf life on organic grapes is shorter than that of conventionally-grown and packaged grapes (no sulphur sheets are allowed among organic grapes).
“When we pick the grape, we already want to know which consumer will eat the grape,” she says. ”We want to know that, so we know the product is already sold, for as efficient and short a supply chain as possible.”
A container of organic table grapes beside the quiver trees of the Northern Cape
A new cold store erected next to the Carpe Diem grape packhouse shaves off around a day in the post-harvest life of the grapes and ensures grapes are cooled to temperature with no delay; before, grapes were precooled at another cold store in Upington.
Their major clients are from multiple supermarkets in Europe and the UK, both directly to retailers, where they have the volumes, as well as through importers.
Canada has been another market where they’ve done well for a couple of years now; in fact, she notes, they could load much more for Canada if they had the grapes.
The United States is very focused on organics making it an interesting market to them, she says, and they could be sending their first volumes there this year.
They are nervous about how Covid could affect the market, but an advantage is that consumers have a preference for grape punnets, reducing as it does the number of hands touching produce.
“Grapes are a luxury item. The economic climate is what could perhaps be a threat to grape sales this season,” she concludes. "I still believe that organic grapes will be in demand as it is healthy, full of vitamins and antioxidants - a perfect snacking fruit."