Despite some initial concerns about quality due to adverse weather conditions in many production countries, grape cultivations in Spain and India seem to be relatively unaffected, whereas Italy has seen some of the feared damage. In other countries, primarily North America and South Africa, it is the ongoing logistical issues, and the high costs associated with them, that are causing problems.

Netherlands: European grapes make way for overseas
European grapes are making way for overseas produce on the Dutch grape market. The overseas season traditionally starts with the Brazilian grapes and Peru too is now bringing all varieties onto the market. The Greek season is over and, according to an importer, the supply of Italian grapes is also declining rapidly. The Italian season was not bad in terms of quality, but the numbers were significantly lower due to the warm weather and sales lagged behind those of previous years. The South African grape harvest is expected to be in line with the previous season. India has good climatic conditions and expects good yields. "Hopefully this will also lead to acceptable pricing and not too much pressure on the market," the importer concludes.

Germany: "Unrestrained" sales of Italian grapes
A wholesaler from Munich offers the green Sugar One variety as well as the red Crimson variety, which are packed and sold in paper bags.

The season started around the end of June/beginning of July and will probably end in December. Both in terms of price and taste, the Italian grapes are "top notch," the wholesaler said. Furthermore, he states that while prices are important factors in terms of sales, the look, taste and good texture are also relevant.

The quality of the grapes is very good according to him. His company receives about five pallets of red grapes and four pallets of green grapes from Italy per week, which are available all year round.

The grapes are then supplied to the gastronomy, (school) canteens and hospitals, among others. Especially for kindergartens, hospitals, etc. grapes are of great interest and used as a fruit garnish for meals. The seller says that sales are "unrestrained", because even in winter adequate quantities are needed, since other goods are not available during this period or at least only in very small quantities.

Demand remains high and relatively similar to last year, he said. Prices have remained stable throughout the season and just below those of last year. The grapes are conventionally cultivated as there is hardly any demand for organic grapes, especially since the price at the Munich wholesale market for organic grapes is almost twice as high than in other markets.

Italy: Sales of seedless grapes have doubled in the last two years
For Sicilian table grapes, the first part of the season (May - August) was excellent, while the second was practically disastrous. Starting from the end of August there were problems due to the pervasive heat, with temperatures even above 45 ° C: the fruits suffered from dehydration and therefore the quality was generally poor.

The prices at the beginning of the season, for the traditional product with seeds, were satisfactory for the producers: from a minimum of 1.20 euros per kg for the early greenhouse produce to a maximum of 1.60. In the central part of the campaign, on the other hand, prices fluctuated from 0.80 to 1.20 euros per kg, before dropping in the final part to 0.80, then 0.50 (and even less in some cases).

Direct competition for the Sicilian produce begins when Spain starts with its seedless grapes in mid-July, simultaneously with Puglia. Greece also arrives at the end of July with the Victoria grape. But this year, in that part of the season, the Sicilian product was very good and of great quality, therefore it was not affected by this competition.

The market trend is definitely towards seedless grapes. It is an undeniable fact. The most interesting markets for Italian grapes with seeds remain France and Switzerland.

According to the statistics, grapes were purchased in the last year ending in September 2021 by over 16.5 million Italian families, corresponding to 63.3% of total families. The category is very seasonal and therefore most of the purchases (6.6 on average per family for a value of € 2.77 per each purchase) is concentrated between August and November.

The most purchased type is seedless white grapes (almost 3.3 million buyer families, more than double compared to two years ago).

Spain: Spanish grapes of good quality, with trend towards seedless varieties
The table grape campaign is coming to an end in the Region of Murcia, the main producing and exporting region in Spain. The weather conditions with no extreme rains led to a good quality harvest as well as an extension of the season. In fact, the Spanish table grape export campaign usually finishes at the end of October or the first week of November. Prices are lower at the moment due to the competition of other origins like Italy, which is also extending its campaign and growing its seedless grape volumes. The high costs of the sea freights caused a drop in exports to third countries, especially to Asia. The Spanish grape sector sees the rising production costs as the biggest threat for the 2022 season.

Investment in new value-added seedless table grape varieties is causing grape consumption to take off in more and more markets. According to growers and traders, over the last three years, there has been an increase in the demand in countries where practically no seedless grapes used to be consumed. This has been especially noticeable since last season, both in the Spanish and French markets. Spanish grapes are gaining ground in Central and Northern Europe, where Italy had dominated until now.

According to an exporter, although the increase in the consumption of seedless table grapes won't be as sharp in the coming years, varieties such as the Candy range still have a lot of room for growth. Consumers are starting to get to know them and are asking for them. There is a very promising future for these kind of seedless table grapes in Spain.

The Region of Murcia, Alicante, and to a lesser extent some provinces of Andalusia, have the main concentration of the cultivation of table grapes in Spain. They have more than 14,000 hectares devoted to this cultivation, 6,688 of them correspond to white table grapes with seeds, 3,452 hectares correspond to seedless red table grapes, 2,441 hectares correspond to seedless white grapes, and 1,891 hectares to seedless red table grapes, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food from Spain's 2020 Survey on Surfaces and Crop Yields. Spain table grape global production stands at around 275,000 tons.

South Africa: Fears over logistical issues for South African grape season
The new grape harvest started last week in the Northern Region (Limpopo) and in Namibia with Early Sweet white seedless and Starlight red seedless. Much of the early crop is for the domestic market where the average grape price is R78 (4.48 euros) per kg.

The crop estimate for the season lies between 70,6 million and 77,7 million 4.5kg cartons, most of that from the last grape production region, the Hex River region. Last season 72.18 million 4.5kg cartons were exported, which was a record amount.

The previous season was a very difficult one, with rain causing quality problems, logistical challenges, depressed market demand and a strengthening of the local currency (which reduces export earnings), and there is some trepidation regarding shipping schedules and container availability as the new season starts. Freight tariff increases, particularly to the Middle and Far East, are steep.

South African grape industry is experiencing increased competition internationally from Peru, Chile, Brazil and India.

India: Positive outlook for Indian grapes despite severe weather
There have been relentless rains in some parts of north India this summer resulting in floods and landslides, causing extensive damage to infrastructure and loss of lives. However, Western India, especially the grape growing regions of Maharashtra, have been by and large spared. In some areas around Nashik, where the grape plants where in the flowering stage, scattered rainfall did have some damaging impact. Given the conditions so far, India expects a sound harvest of grapes both on quality and volume. Last year, the quality of Indian grapes was perceived to be good in most of the markets. Growers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of high-quality harvest and are undertaking smart farming-practices to improve the quality of grapes.

North America: Supplies of California grapes are tighter than this time last year
According to the most recent California cold storage report, there are 2.4 million fewer boxes of red grapes in cold storage compared last year and 3.4 million fewer boxes than in 2019. “It looks as though we’ll be short supplied on red grapes from California for December,” says one shipper. “In November there’s still fruit to buy and they’re packing fresh product.”

In fact, following October’s rain in California--and despite the fact that California grapes are largely under plastic--the intensity of the rain in the short period of time means it was challenging to protect that fruit fully. “The same amount of red grapes in that report two weeks ago hasn’t increased. Which means all the fruit harvested in the past two weeks is not going into storage because they know it won’t last in storage,” says the shipper.

Green grapes, however, are more abundant. “But we do expect the pack out numbers on green seedless, as we get closer to the middle of November, to drop off as well,” says the shipper. “We believe California will be challenged with inventories with what’s in the cooler but also how strong the condition of that fruit is in cold storage.” 

While the slimmer supplies of red grapes is anticipated, a gap in the market is not. “Supplies will just be short because fruit is already coming from Brazil and Peru,” the shipper says.

Harvest has begun in Peru and better volumes should arrive by mid-December. “The U.S. is still the market of choice for Peru and they’re projected to have a crop of more than 60 million boxes this year--another 10 percent increase from last year,” says the shipper. The other significant market for Peruvian fruit is Asia, though given the logistics issues being seen globally and reports that fruit could see delays of 40-60 days, shipping fruit to the U.S. could possibly be more attractive to Peruvian growers.

However, there are significant freight increases in shipping the fruit from Northern Peru to the U.S. “Early volumes from South America won’t see consistency in steady arrivals,” says the shipper.

Brazilian grapes should arrive the last week of November but Brazil’s crop overall looks to be average. “I don’t see a huge increase coming from Brazil because we haven’t seen a substantial increase in plantings there for the past five to seven years.”

As for Chilean imports, the overall crop remains a question mark. “A lot of growers last year suffered financially and we’re not certain how they’re going to manage getting their crop into the market this year,” says the shipper. The first bulk arrival from Chile is projected to arrive around Dec. 20 and the majority of that fruit is expected to be Flame Seedless. While retailers are focused on better varieties but if the red grape market is short, they’ll take it.

As for pricing, California’s prices are pushing higher currently. “They anticipate lower supplies between now and the end of the year and growers in Brazil and Peru know it,” says the shipper. “They’re focused on shipping fruit to the U.S. to capture the potential for a higher spot market in December.”

Given the combination of the higher pricing and high freight costs, the shipper anticipates that retailers east of the Mississippi, especially those on the East Coast, could switch to imported fruit earlier. “Ocean freight from Peru is cheaper than a truck from California to the East Coast today.”

Australia: High exports of grapes from Australia set to continue
The Australian table grape season has just begun, with early-season varieties hitting the market. At this stage of the year, retail domestic prices for one variety, Flame Seedless varies from between $10-$17 per kilogram depending on the store and location. But exports will again be a big part of this Australian table grape season after it was the nation's highest-valued fruit and vegetable export in the 2019/20 financial year, worth $622.9 million as it continued its year-on-year growth. According to the statistics, table grape exports more than doubled in value in the past five seasons, from $240 million in 2014/15. Even in the COVID-19 affected 2020/21 season, there was a lot of investment to continue the promotion of the Australian fruit in key markets in Asia, as well as domestically, with reports from organisers that product awareness was at an all-time high. The large increase in newly engaged consumers, both at home and abroad, suggests a growing demand for healthy, delicious Australian table grapes in the years ahead. Overall, the Australian table grape industry’s production value has grown at an average annual rate of 13.4 per cent over the five years to 2019/20, and in that year 214,660 tonnes were produced.

Next week: Global overview pineapples!

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