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The global grape market shows a very varied picture at the moment. On the European market, there is concern about prices rising too high for consumers to continuing buying grapes, particularly in light of the current rise in cost of living. For now however, demand remains strong, particularly for seedless varieties. Notably, the opposite is true in Italy, where traditional varieties with seeds are still the preference. Along with Greece and South Africa, the Italian grape growing season has been severely hit by wet weather, which has affected the quality of the grapes. India, on the other hand, has had an excellent growing season and is currently focussing on the Asian market. All in all, the global grape market promises to be an exciting season for many.

Netherlands: Anxiety on 'expensive' grape market
The European grape season ran seamlessly into overseas grapes this year. After grapes from Peru and Brazil, Namibian and South African grapes are now arriving on the market. From both Peru and Brazil, exports to Europe are significantly lower this year. "The exchange rate plays a big role in this. The weak euro against the dollar combined with extremely high freight costs towards Europe is a reason for exporters to export to North America. Lower volumes are also expected from South Africa in the pre-season. According to one importer, anxiety is currently characterising the grape market. "Due to shortages, prices are at a high level. Supplies are still limited and coming in in bits and pieces. The big question is how supermarkets and consumers will react to the higher cost price."

Belgium: Demand for seedless grapes exceeds supply
The overseas season of grapes is now in full swing for a Belgian importer and there is good demand for them. "However, the supply of seedless cannot quite keep up with demand at the moment. Grapes from South America are of good quality and demand always goes up towards the end of the year as well. Grapes are really a top product for us at the moment. The seedless varieties at least. For seeded grapes, it's a completely different story. Here we hardly see any interest anymore. The convenience of a seedless grape wins out. Moreover, we see that the seedless tend to be crunchier."

However, supply is still somewhat disappointing. "Because of high transport costs, many choose to ship closer to home and send less this way. That then results in high prices towards the end of the year. The good demand lies mainly in the fact that the quality is good and grapes are still a cheaper alternative to more expensive exotic fruit at the holidays. We will really have to see how this will develop in the new year."

Germany: Late start to South African season
The overseas grape season is getting off to a relatively slow start this year. There were strikes in Peru in early December, resulting in a shortage in the supply of red seedless grapes. Meanwhile, incoming ships from South Africa have also been significantly delayed due to strikes at the seaports, outlines an importer. "In Namibia, the stock looks good, but exporters are still struggling with a lack of packaging materials. In South Africa, there has been too much rainfall in recent weeks and rain is still forecast. Certain orchards in the north are already blighted."

Demand has been somewhat more subdued so far due to price trends, he said. At the moment, however, demand is increasing visibly, which in turn is due to the lack of quantities. The last remaining European stocks from Italy were cleared only a few days ago. The inflation-related reluctance to buy is not affecting the table grape sector as such, more severely affecting exotic fruits. The continuing high freight and logistics costs are all the more problematic for the grape sector.

United Kingdom: Positive outlook for imported grapes, but prices risk rising too much
Peru is pretty much a year-round grape producer - in some varieties there is always something on its way -, but the main season for seedless grapes started in week 38. Black seedless was the main variety which arrived in the UK late week 42, followed by pockets of red seedless and then green seedless 2 weeks later around week44/45 arrivals.

The colder than usual weather in Piura delayed the season, 7-14 days, as growers were waiting for brix to rise, which caused a delay in starting programmes. However, volumes remained the same, with the grapes still performing well on size, according to an importer in the UK.

"At the start of organising programs to Europe, the US Dollar was very strong compared to GBP and Euro, plus the shipping rates were also high. This balance between fruit not being ready and higher prices in EU currency terms allowed for the lower volumes to not have a big impact at first.”

"An earlier than predicted finish for EU grapes, together with the later start from Peru and limited volume from Brazil, with vessel delays mixed in meant that the market was short and prices went through the roof. Brazil had rains and programmes were not fulfilled, which kept the market strong.  Peru is very good at keeping programs due to more stable weather but by the time buyers realised the shortfall it was too late and those that sent fruit speculatively will have made a very good return."

As per normal Peru starts shipping to Asia and North America where the big berry and long shelf-life varieties are welcomed – these 2 markets grow every year for Peru. The California storage crop is more or less done so the switch to imports is in full swing in the USA.

"The current political issues in Peru are causing problems on the ground with strikes and roadblocks – the government /army have started to mobilize and step by step stabilise the situation. There is a lot of misinformation and radicals that are attempting to stir up trouble – the message that the people need to hear is 'It is ok to protest, but not ok to vandalize or take control of highways or to hurt people'.  We hope that over the next few days calm will prevail."

"The new season of RSA / Namibian grapes has started to arrive in the UK, so far what we have received has been very nice, although rain and hail has now hit production areas causing widespread damage. A lot of grapes will be lost and the current “noise” about the situation is hard to read, no doubt there have been some losses and the photos are quite dramatic. When the data becomes clear maybe this will create a longer-term short position."

According to the importer, shipping costs are starting to come down from the ridiculous levels that they reached but the distribution of the reductions is not always fair by region or country and creates a lot of extra difficulties for farmers and buyers of fresh produce. Shipping delays also add to the unwelcome drama!

"Grapes are at the higher end of the customer price level, so for consumption the industry must be wary of prices getting too high due to all the above-mentioned problems, cash is tight for the consumer particularly in Europe, the supply and demand scale is finely balanced."

France: Demand increases for the holidays
In December, the supply of grapes is generally decreasing, the French and Italian origins are ending, although there are still some grapes Spanish origin. Prices and demand are increasing in the run up to the holidays. The Italia variety is suffering a drop in quality due to the heat during the summer and at the end of the season. Soon the French market will welcome the grapes of counter-season with the Southern Hemisphere: South Africa and Chile.

Italy: Difficult growing season for Sicilian grapes
"Our table grape campaign is practically over, although some companies still have limited cold-storage quantities available, which they have decided to sell in the run-up to Christmas," says a producer from the province of Bari, which has more than 50 hectares dedicated to grapes. "The current prices of the few grapes available range from 1.80 to 2.50 €/kg. The 2022 campaign has definitively established the consumer preference for seedless grapes, even in Italy, where the consumption of grapes with seeds has always been high compared to the European average, partly due to the greater presence of vineyards of traditional varieties. For seeded cultivars, the season ended in the worst way, as much product remained unsold on the vines, so much so that several companies experienced a total lack of turnover."

"A really heavy season for Sicilian table grapes, which does not let up until the end," reports a producer. "In recent days, fog and rain have ruined the grapes in the field. There is little left on the plants where something was saved, while there is availability in our cold stores. In this case, however, a distinction has to be made between the Italia variety, which is of average quality, and Red Globe, which instead has rather good quality characteristics, albeit in smaller quantities. At present we cannot speak of producer prices because prices, at least in our case, are made according to availability in the cells: 0.70 €/kg for the Italia variety and 1.00 - 1.20 €/kg for Red Globe. The availability of the product should allow us to provide, especially with the red grapes, until New Year with the best batches and, in this sense, requests are high for France, Spain and other destinations in Europe."

Spain: Spanish grapes face competition from Peru
The Spanish seedless table grape campaign is coming to an end while there are still seeded varieties as Aledo that will make it until the end of the year for the traditional New Year’s Eve 12 grapes. Sales have been stuck in the Spanish market for imported varieties - mainly from Peru -, since November, according to a Spanish grower and trader. As import prices of Peruvian grapes are high due to a lower availability and the increase in logistic costs, it has become one of the most expensive fresh goods on the shelves, which has slowed down the consumption significantly. “Importers thought they would have a shortage of grapes from Peru due to the lower volumes, but it feels like there is a surplus and we are now forced to sell below costs,” says the Spanish trader. “Sales could speed up a bit towards Christmas, but we don’t expect a good campaign this year.”

Greece: Extreme humidity and heavy rains hit Greek grapes
This year, for 28 consecutive days there was extreme relative humidity in the Greek grape growing area. As a result, grapes didn’t finish perfectly and they needed fast sales to avoid long storage times. Combined with a heavy rainfall, which completely wiped out one exporter’s IFG Sweet Globe and damaged the IFG Sweet Favors, the season turned to be a bad one. Red Seedless was in extremely high demand, as Spain didn’t have the right colour and finishing due to their heatwave. Prices were kept low in order to assist clients with their inflationary problems and fruit moved fast. In general, the demand for Greek grapes was down 20-30%, as customers are more selective with their spending and Spain has a lot to offer and great relationships with the retailers. The UK is very big market for Greek grapes. Germany remains the key market for Greek Seedless grapes.

South Africa: Heavy rainfall affects grape growing regions
There has been a lot of rain in South Africa, including in every region where grapes are grown – and that is stretched north to south over a distance of 1,500 km. Exports have been lower than usual and the early window will be undersupplied; it’s basically just the Aussenkehr Valley of Namibia that’s proceeding without hiccups at the moment. Reports are that the Namibian grapes are looking very good.

In the Orange River region the Early Sweet and Prime crops are lighter than expected; excessive heat during flowering in October caused abscission. The crop estimate for this region (second to the Hex River Valley production-wise) is 12% to 17% lower than last year’s intakes of 22.3 million 4.5kg cartons.

The situation in the Northern Region, which opens the season concurrently with Namibia but supplies a much smaller portion of South Africa’s grapes, is similar. They are in a summer rainfall area, therefore fully equipped to handle rain.

The earliest grapes are picked in the Olifants River region, and like last year, the harvest has been complicated by rain.

A Trawal grower says they’ve lost half their Prime and half their Tawny because of rain, and the grapes had been looking so good, he remarks. (Just four years ago, the area was in the grip of such a tough drought that some vineyards were cut off.)

More rain is predicted for the Cape and it could delay the start of the harvest in the Hex River Valley, whose crop is estimated at 4% to 6% lower than last year’s 25.25 million cartons.

Those who have good quality grapes to export at the moment, will do well. Severe thunderstorms have had a big impact and there might be quality problems as a result. Damaged grapes close to ripeness from the Western Cape can fortunately be sent for drying as raisins and raisin production will probably benefit.

It remains to be seen whether the table grape industry can again top 70 million 4.5kg cartons. Other hurdles to overcome include the chronic power shortages, which has led to punnet shortages (not to mention cost inflation of packing material) and it’s costing an arm and a leg in diesel to keep generators running.

Table grape growers will need higher prices and adjustments of the margins of other role-players along the value chain

At least there’s a good rapport with Transnet to keep Cape Town harbor operational (except on Christmas Day) and avoid the delays of previous years, weather and wind permitting.

India: Good prospects for Indian grape season
Some Indian grape exporters have already started the season. The fruit that is available is more suitable for the Asian market, as the Mrl levels will be higher than the European market requires. The South African season has already started, so it’s not in India’s best interest to also start shipping grapes to the European market at the same time. Shipments to the European and UK market should start by the end of January. Volumes are looking good, as there were hardly any climatic challenges during cultivation. This means that the quality of the grapes is looking solid as well. In general, the weather has been very favourable for the cultivation of grapes. Once the second half of January starts, the packing of grapes that are destined for the European market starts.

North America: Interesting grape season ahead
“It’s going to be an interesting season,” according to one North American shipper of the upcoming import table grape season, which is beginning its transition out of domestic product from California. “We can expect good quality from all regions this year and I don’t think we’ll see the transit delays and the resulting condition issues that we saw last year,” he says.

“California is still in the market. At last count there were still 6 million boxes of California grapes in storage. Though I’m not sure how much of that will get into distribution,” he says.

He notes that it was initially expected that California’s season would end earlier given summer weather conditions that made fruit a little challenging. “It was also, by California standards, a lighter crop with under 100 million cases,” he says. “So expectations were high that North America would be ready for an early transition to imported grapes.” 

Peru’s grape production is expected to be up this season, and exports to the U.S. are already up disproportionately. “The European currencies are relatively weak compared to the U.S. dollar and Europe is also facing some economic difficulties due to a variety of reasons including inflation and the impact of the war in Ukraine,” he says. “So there’s been a decline in shipments to Europe and the U.K. and a lot more fruit being shipped to North America. Shipments to the U.S. are up over 35 percent from last year while loadings to Europe and the UK are down almost 20 percent.”

Peru continues to move away from the traditional varieties of grapes including Flames, Thompsons, Crimsons and Red Globes (the latter is the formerly predominant variety from Peru). Peru continues its focus on the new proprietary varieties including Sweet Globe, which comprise 20 percent of Peruvian exports so far this season, Allisons, Timcos, Autumn Crisp, Sable, and Midnight Beauty.

While it’s difficult to tell what is normal anymore for a transition, the move towards imports is happening at a time similar to last year. “I don’t think we can reasonably expect retailers to transition to imported grapes before the U.S. Thanksgiving. The focus is not on table grapes and California always has enough good fruit to get through November,” he says, noting some California shippers ship right through December. “What is sort of normal is mid-December with a full transition by the end of December, early January.”

As for demand for grapes, October and November saw moderate demand, possibly reflecting the erratic late-season quality and condition from California. Now however, while California fruit is selling between $20-$22, Peruvian grape sellers are pushing for higher pricing between $30-$32. “Will consumers pay a higher retail price for table grapes?” says the shipper. “There hasn’t been sufficient transition by retailers to see how consumers will react to changes in retail pricing. We’ll know a lot more in a couple of weeks as we watch the rate at which retailers re-order.”

January, of course, will see some other producing regions enter the market, starting with Chile which will start with arrivals late in the year or early January. Chile is continuing its move away from the traditional, but earlier producing varieties, such as Sugraones and Flames. Currently Chile’s production estimates are for more than 65 million cases of export grapes, though not all of that is destined for North America.

“We’re also expecting fruit from South Africa, although more will come to Canada than will go to the U.S.,” says the shipper. “South African grapes are heading to Europe and the UK right now. We will have them in Canada and the U.S. in January.”

Chile: Imminent start of the Chilean table grape export season
In its second estimate for the 2022/23 season, the ASOEX Table Grape Committee projected a 7.7% drop in exports compared to the previous season, for a total of 68.6 million boxes (8.2 kg) of fresh table grapes.

As the president of the entity indicated, "it is important to highlight that this second estimate shows an increase in exports of new varieties, and not only with respect to the previous forecast, but also in relation to shipments of traditional and Red Globe varieties, which shows the varietal replacement that is taking place in the industry and which explains, in part, this decrease in total shipments.”

Shipments of new varieties are expected to reach 36,743,977 boxes, representing more than 50% of shipments -specifically 53.5%-, while traditional varieties will have a participation of 29.7%, with 20,372,471, and Red Globe will participate with 16.8% of the total with 11,490,306 boxes.

"There is an increase in white varieties, in contrast to the first forecast, amounting to 24,008,975 boxes. While in the others there is a drop compared to the previous forecast. The red varieties would reach 26,634,236 boxes, the black ones 6,473,237 boxes and the Red Globe would total 11,490,306 boxes," reported ASOEX.

The projected fall in exports will be uneven in the main markets for the Chilean industry. In the United States, where 56.3% of table grape volumes are expected to be shipped this season, a slight drop of 1% is expected; Asia, which would receive 21.6% of the total, would experience a drop of 9% in shipments, and Europe, with an estimated share of 8.8%, could experience a drop of 27%.

For now, the campaign has started with a two-week delay associated with the cold spring weather and according to industry sources, shipments are expected to start in week 50.

Australia: Late start to Australian table grape season
It is heading into peak table grape season in Australia, with early varieties on the shelves before Christmas. But one Victorian grower explains that grapes are coming very late this season; up to 3-4 weeks depending on variety and location within the region.

Enrique Rossi from Budou Farms says: "We had a very wet and cool spring and the beginning of summer is still cold with too many cloudy days, so not the best conditions for grapes at this stage. This is due to the La Nina event, which is our third in a row and there is not much we can do about it. At this stage, we can not see the final quality, but within the next 2 weeks, we will have an idea of size, as most of the gibberellin sprays have just finished. In a normal year usually around this time some spots could be starting harvesting for early varieties and mid to late varieties could have started very soon."

He is expecting that in the coming weeks the weather will finally firm up and he should start getting more warm days, so vines will take off, being extra challenging but the noble vines still there producing and as soon nature helps a bit, things should come back in a more normal way.

Next week: Sweet Potatoes!

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