As we come to the end of another year, the global garlic market finds itself in a rather tricky situation in many countries. In the Netherlands, garlic prices reach an 'all-time high,' driven by quality issues in Spain and a reliance on more expensive Chinese imports. France faces high prices and low quality, exacerbated by waxy breakdown disease and logistical challenges with Chinese garlic. Italy struggles to find acceptable quality garlic due to limited Spanish supply, focusing attention on upcoming shipments from South America. Spain experiences a significant reduction in garlic production due to drought, impacting yields and quality. In South Africa, local garlic producers contend with increasing imports, leading many to switch to alternative crops. In North America, variable supply conditions from Spain and China contribute to higher prices, with expectations of potential softening in January. Whether the situation will improve in the New Year remains to be seen.

The Netherlands: ‘All time high’ prices for garlic
Prices for garlic and ginger are at an all-time high. A Dutch importer also did not expect a big boost early this week ahead of the holiday season. "Because these products have a reasonably good shelf life, we have already had the biggest Christmas rush over the past two-three weeks. This week, the focus will be on back-orders for the programs. Garlic is very well priced at the moment. Spain has many quality problems this season and much less available. As a result, European customers are relying on China, but Chinese garlic is also very expensive," Bert says. "The price of packaged Chinese garlic is even above 3 euros per kg, the price of loose is just under 3 euros."

A new factor that may affect imports from Asia is that shipping companies CMA CGM, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk have decided to stop sailing through the Red Sea for fear of Houthi rebel attacks from Yemen. "We mainly sail with the Costco and Evergreen shipping lines from China and they have not made a decision yet. But we are keeping a close eye on it, as it could cause delays. With the alternatives, the ships are a week or more in transit."

France: High prices and low quality
The French garlic season is almost over. The campaign was promising at the beginning of September, but waxy breakdown disease and weather problems during the harvest affected production. Spanish products are also coming to an end, with one French operator reporting a 30% drop in production, also due to quality problems. Chinese garlic is also missing from the French market, due to a big drop in production and logistical problems caused by the Red Sea bypass. The French market is impatiently awaiting garlic from Argentina, which should arrive around 15 January.

Poland: Struggle to find high quality garlic for Christmas
The main producer of garlic in Europe is Spain, but this year was very difficult for them due to floods, which destroyed many crops. By sending inquiries regarding garlic of the most desired sizes, Polish garlic importers received information about the lack of goods or an offer with a purchase price, comparable to the selling price in European supermarkets. Some countries, such as Poland, have garlic crops of their own, but are unable to meet their own needs, let alone export. For this reason, many companies have turned to China and South America for their garlic needs. Importing garlic from China is quite an affordable solution, but mainly on an industrial scale, so for food production and catering. This applies to a lesser extent in households, because in some European countries there is a misconception that everything Chinese, including garlic, is of low quality.

In Europe, Christmas is celebrated with family over meals, and therefore this is the season of the highest food production of the year. This allows distributors who still have garlic to raise their prices beyond the profitability of purchase and production, but food producers simply have to purchase this product. Considering that the garlic must be cleaned and prepared for transport, importers can expect the first garlic loadings from South America in mid-December. This means delivery to Europe by mid-January. Such a late delivery option, after the Christmas production peak, does not result in lower demand. European countries will stock up and wait impatiently for weather forecasts in Spain and the Spanish harvest in May and June.

Italy: Acceptable garlic hard to find
Italian traders are still struggling to find supplies of garlic of at least acceptable quality. The situation is unlikely to change much before Christmas. The first shipments from Argentina will arrive in Europe in January. "Many Spanish growers and traders have run out of stock and there are limited quantities available to meet market demand. At the moment all attention is focused on South America, especially Chile and Argentina," says one importer. "The climate in South America is favourable at the moment, so we are expecting arrivals of very good quality garlic, albeit at quite high prices". It is worth noting that countries such as Egypt and Turkey are showing increasing interest in garlic sales, as the cost of growing garlic in these countries is much lower than in Italy, Spain or France.

According to GfK Consumer Panel Services, garlic is purchased by 55.2% of Italian households, with a purchase frequency of less than four times a year. The organic segment has not proven to be a relevant purchase driver over time.

Spain: Less surface and reduced yields for Spanish garlic
Garlic production for the 2023/24 marketing campaign has experienced a significant reduction marked by drought in most of the producing regions, greatly affecting Andalusia. There, the decline is officially estimated at 45.5% compared to the previous campaign, and 50.9% compared to the average of the last 5 campaigns.

“The garlic harvesting campaign began in May and ended in August, and in general it has been very difficult, with very poor evolution and very low utilization,” explains an operator in the sector. “Unfortunately, I would say that it is the worst that I remember in at least 34 years, and it will do a lot of damage to farmers, who could consider using different varieties in other years and making more Spring garlic than purple garlic due to the yields obtained this year.”

According to ANPCA, the decrease in yields in general is estimated between 30-40% compared to a normal campaign. In the analysis carried out at the end of the campaign by the entity, it was revealed that this 2023 campaign has generally had a smaller area than the previous campaign, around 15%, but the final production has been reduced even further, due to the adverse weather conditions suffered during the completion of the crop. And this situation, inevitably, has had consequences on the quality of the 2023/24 production: the early varieties have a low quality with respect to the use of the garlic heads, and the purple garlic despite having a similar quality to the last season, has had a decrease in performance due to lack of calibre, which has even led operators to have to change the reference format on the shelves on some occasions.

“To make the same weight as the traditional nets of 4 heads of purple garlic, we have been forced to use up to 6,” he says. Dry garlic thus faces a complex campaign; but not fresh garlic, with a demand that each season far exceeds the supply in Spain.

“I am totally convinced that young garlic is currently a very interesting alternative for the primary sector and would be an opportunity for people who are experiencing difficulties in their sectors; specifically in dried garlic, which strongly competes in the European market with the garlic from China that enters through England,” remarks a garlic producer.

South Africa: Local producers squeezed out by imports
Garlic prices increased to almost R46 per kg (2.27 euro). The market is increasingly dominated by imports which is squeezing out local producers, says a former garlic grower who has quit garlic, as have many other farmers he knows. Generally, they replace it with vegetables like butternuts, cabbage or sweet peppers.

Imports come from China (against whom an anti-dumping tariff (currently US$1.30 per kg) has been in place for many years and Spain, the origin of the bulk of garlic sold at South African retailers.

North America: Garlic prices could soften next month
Garlic supply is a tale of two hemispheres right now. Supply was variable from the Northern Hemisphere with Spain and China having less yield and quality compared to normal years, and California is also down in supply. However, there are good yields and quality garlic coming out of the Southern Hemisphere, including from Argentina and Peru. Overall, there is less supply compared to last year because of those two main garlic exporting countries--Spain and China--both having lower production years. Right now, storage garlic is coming out of California and China and new crop arrivals are coming from Argentina and just hitting the market now. The timing for the recent Southern Hemisphere harvests are on track and normal. The next harvests are a long way off and remain to be seen. As for demand, the holidays right through New Year’s should keep the garlic market active and strong. High prices might slow down demand after that though so it won’t be surprising to see some softening in January.

Freshplaza will be on holiday over the festive period, the Global Market will return on January 5 2024 with Global Market Overview Grapes!