Opinion: 'Chilean grapes wasting market windows'
By Isabel Quiroz, executive director of Chilean research company iQonsulting
The season seemed difficult in the beginning; increased production in Chile, a weak dollar and significant stocks in the U.S. But before the arrival of Chile's grapes in the North American market, the quality of U.S. stocks fell and the smooth flow of imported grape sales was not interrupted.
The U.S. is Chile's biggest grape export market and volumes in 2011 were fairly similar to last year's. In fact, until week 11 (mid-March) Chile exported 1% less than in the previous season at 340,600 metric tons (MT), which is the equivalent 42 million 8.2kg boxes.
The reallocation of export volumes was helped by declining volumes in South Africa and Argentina, leaving a clear early market in Europe, with low expectations of competition from India for the market peak due to problems with Clormequat last season.
As a result, Chile's exports to Europe have grown a bit more than 30%, while exports to Asia have grown 60%, with 110,000MT and 71,000MT respectively until mid-March. Exports to other markets such as Latin America and the Middle East have also grown significantly, at rates of 20% and 11% respectively.
Chile's capacity to place high table grape volumes in all markets, while reallocating to markets with better exchange rate and demand conditions, is impressive. However, there is an endemic shortcoming for Chilean grapes on quality, understood as a set of aspects that determine whether the fruit is attractive for the customer; the condition of the fruit.
Currently markets are depressed, especially in the U.S. and Europe, with a large amount of fruit that's arrived in poor condition, especially the Thompson varities sent after the last rain.
During the season it has been possible to sustain prices for good fruit, but in general prices have reduced by $US2 per box, and €2 for 4.5kg boxes in Europe for Thompson Seedless grapes. Size falls were also observed in the two weeks to week 12.
The question is this: why do we continue without having an agreement in Chile to preserve a marketplace where we don't have competition? For how many more years can producers, technicians and exporters provide poor quality grapes on arrival and take shortcuts, before it upsets markets, especially when there's a large volume to move? How long will it take to understand consumers wil only buy quality fruit that is the real deal?