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Jan Rozema, Olympic Fruit:

Grapes: Delicious and fair, with or without seeds

The advance of seedless grape varieties has become very pronounced in recent years, but that is no longer at the expense of the seeded grape market. Jan Rozema from Olympic Fruit, sees that this market is also doing well, and flavour plays an important part on that market. Fairtrade is also an increasingly important factor in the grape sector. 

“The Greek season finished earlier, because of bad weather in Greece,” Rozema explains. Brazil expects a fairly good harvest. Despite occasional rain and the sales on the domestic market, a decent export volume is expected. The Brazilian grape season lasts until week 48, and the market is then taken over by grapes from Namibia and South Africa. 

Peruvian programmes
“Peru, which has also been doing very well with grapes in recent years, increases its supply of seedless grapes every year, and is playing a larger role each time,” Rozema continues. Olympic Fruit also imports Peruvian volumes. Programmes for the Peruvian grapes are being set up with a number of customers, but Brazil will remain more important as regards share in volume for now.

For Rozema, the grape season properly starts around week 44 or 45, when South Africa and Namibia start harvesting and packing. With these countries in his portfolio, he can provide a good view of the estimates for these seasons. “We expect a good harvest this year. The first reports are positive: we expect a good, large grape. Of course, it is still early, and hail could still do a lot of damage, but it is looking good, in principle.”

Drought and prayer meetings
In South Africa, the season starts in the Northern Province, in week 44/45. This region, in the northeast of the country, may start the season but belongs to one of the smaller production regions for grapes. Namibia starts a week later. Orange River, the region on the border between South Africa and Namibia, starts around week 47. “We expect a good harvest in Namibia and Orange River. A smaller volume is predicted, but that will probably be compensated by the new fields entering into production.” South Africa and Namibia still invest in the grape cultivation, the Namibian area in particular is still increasing, according to Rozema.

Drought is a problem in South Africa, and especially in the Northern Province. The water level behind the dam is about 40 per cent, which is much too low. “We do not yet expect a problem for the grapes this year, but if it does not rain, it will certainly be a problem for the citrus season. Prayer meetings are being organised because of the drought,” says Rozema.

New strains
The vineyards also experienced a shift in strains. New strains are planted for red grapes in particular, including varieties such as Sweet Celebration and Tawny. “These strains can better withstand rain and replace varieties such as Flame Seedless.” The advance of red strains is at a small expense of white ones. Traditional white strains such as Sugraone and Thompson are gradually being replaced by alternative strains such as Sugar Crisp and Sweet Globe.

Seeded grapes from Hoekstra
“We see more and more room on the market for good seeded grapes,” Rozema continues. He mentions grapes from the cultivation company Hoekstra Fruit Farms in Paarl, South Africa. “That company was founded by Aat Hoekstra, a Dutch man who emigrated in the 1950s. They cultivate wonderfully large grapes that have a good flavour.” Hoekstra has ten cultivation locations. The majority of the planted strains have seeds, but they also cultivate a few seedless strains. Varieties such as Muscat Delight, African Delight, Tropical Delight and Evans Delight are doing very well.

Traditionally, Southern Europe is a good market for seeded grapes, but in recent years, there has been a good increase in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands. Room is being made on the shelves again for special, seeded varieties. “It is possible that larger volumes will be shipped to the EU, and smaller volumes to the UK. Traditionally, the UK is a good market for grapes, but the Brexit and the low exchange rate of the pound will have an effect on the market,” Rozema says.

Fairtrade grapes
The turbulent growth of the organic market and organic supply that can also be seen on the fresh produce shelves, does not seem very large yet in the grape segment for now. Within this category, there is a preference for honest trade. “It is becoming increasingly important for cultivators to be ethically certified,” Rozema explains. All of the cultivators who supply to Olympic Fruit are certified. Investments are made into projects for better living conditions for the workers on the plantations. And going one step further, you could end up with Fairtrade, which is also advancing. “Demand for Fairtrade is currently larger than that for organic.” Fairtrade guarantees a fair price for cultivators in order to obtain a better position on the market. “We are working hard with our cultivators from South Africa, India and Egypt to market Fairtrade grapes.” Olympic Fruit advises cultivators in those countries about their audits and has its own consultant who advises the cultivators to get the cultivation locations Fairtrade certified.

For more information:
Olympic Fruit
Jan Rozema
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