The initial prospects for Chilean table grape exports, which the USDA had expected to increase by more than 20% this season compared to the previous one thanks to good growing conditions and the entry into production of new plantations, have been marred by logistical problems.
Already in mid-March, at the peak of the season, Chilean growers were asking for priority shipment on refrigerated vessels for their (perishable) fresh fruit to the United States due to the concerningly lower availability of ships. Maritime transport congestion then caused a real "logistical bottleneck". The Chilean Fruit Producers Federation, Fedefruta, pointed out that while "the table grape season was in its most critical weeks," they did not have "enough ships in the ports to ship the fruit to its destination."
These initial problems foreshadowed the bittersweet results obtained in the United States after a whole year of hard work on the part of Chilean producers, who've had to deal with unprecedented production costs and a shortage of inputs, leading exporters to consider taking legal action against the shipping companies and the Port of Philadelphia for the millions of dollars in losses suffered.
But this problem has not only affected table grape shipments from Chile to the United States. "Arrivals to Europe have also suffered great delays and the fruit has been arriving with many quality problems," shares a Spanish importer. "The port of Rotterdam was congested, as, with the war, many ships heading to Russian ports such as St. Petersburg stopped in Holland, and container delays reached 15-20 days."
"Unfortunately, these delays meant that all the grapes arrived on the same date and only importers who had programs with supermarkets in Europe were able to sell them. The rest was put on the open market, but consumption in the colder months is generally lower than at other times of the year, so the import season has not been easy at all. In addition, we have felt increasing pressure from grapes from Peru, which is producing much more fruit; all Chilean grapes had to be sold in April and a bit during May, while the product from Peru also continued to arrive."
"Also, despite the delays continuing to cause great problems for importers, freight prices have not stopped growing. In the Peruvian grape season they have been paid up to $7,000, while in the Chilean season, which comes just after, the price has risen to $12,000. Freight alone has cost between 40 and 50 cents per kilo of grapes, to which you must add the price of the product itself and, as since it was difficult to sell, you have to add the cost of storage in cold chambers to preserve the fruit."
"I would say that it has been Chile's best season in terms of production and quality in many years, but the worst in history in terms of logistics and returns to the producer," says the importer. "That is why, seeing what has happened to Chile, we have to think about what we are going to do during the European grape campaign and consider whether it will be worth shipping by sea, knowing that those shipments can take up to 40 days to reach their destination. On top of that, we also have to wonder what is going to happen with road transport. With the price of diesel at 2 Euro, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find trucks and drivers to leave from here to Germany, Brussels or Paris."
"Moreover, we have to take into account that countries like Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Greece or Northern Macedonia used to ship their fruit to Russia and Belarus, and this year it is not going to be possible," says the importer, "so we are all going to be selling in the same market."
"This is a very complex moment in history and I think the situation will remain very hard for the next two or even three years. The whole chain has to be aware of this, from producers to supermarkets, and understand that, although everyone is going to earn less, everyone must continue to earn enough to make a living in order to survive."
"For now, the seasons have already started in Italy and Spain. In Italy, white seedless grapes are recording very good sales, and white seeded grapes are also being sold at good prices, but only small volumes, while Sicilian Victoria and Black Magic seeded grapes are recording slow sales and prices 20% lower than last year. In Spain, prices are good, but the volume marketed so far is very low. My great hope this year is in the quality of the fruit, and that consumers will give the European product the recognition it deserves and appreciate the hard work of our producers."