Dutch grape importer hedges bets with South African unrest
With few secure market options, European importers are anxiously awaiting the start of the Chilean table grape season, according to Dutch importer WilkoFruit owner Wilko van der Zwaard.
With quality inconsistency from Brazil and market insecurity from South Africa, the importer painted the picture of an impatient market.
"There’s only a little bit of Spanish with good shelf life. But all the rest from Italy, it’s gone. It’s over. Brazil has small quality problems also already. For South Africa’s arrival, the first is next week," van der Zwaard said.
"The quality [from Chile] will be good. The price will be also good. Because they are coming to an empty market."
Until the Chilean season gets rolling over a month from now, van der Zwaard said he expects Sugraone and Red Globe varieties from Peru, the inconsistent Brazilian offering and shipments from an unsure South Africa.
Although van der Zwaard said the South African offering has been good so far, vineyard protests in the country's Western Cape region have created hesitation.
"The plan of this year is to work more with Chile. Because of all the problems in South Africa, we’re not sure if later on we’ll have the continuity," he said.
"We will do some volume from South Africa but we will do more volume, more regularly with Chile. My hopes will be on Chile this year 100%, from the start until the end. South Africa, we’ll see how the situation will be."
Part of van der Zwaard's confidence in Chile comes from proactive marketing and encouragement from ProChile to buy directly from small growers.
According to a Sep. 1 report by market researcher iQonsulting, exports from Chile will rise by about 4% this year, reaching around 846,000 tons (MT) compared to last season’s total of 813,000 MT.
On the South African end, Johan Brits of Afrifresh Group said no direct consequences have been felt on the European market.
"We haven’t really had any, so-called effects from the Europeans because of the strikes," Brits said.
"We’ve got an office in Rotterdam which we supply and obviously, they’ve got a really big client base through the whole of Europe and they haven’t really pointed out any points of concern or any problems from their side or distrust or anything."
Most Afrifresh Group grape crops are found in the Northern Cape, away from major strikes.
As of week 47, however, South African exports to Europe and the U.K. had dropped significantly, according to the most recent crop report by the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI). 120,510 4.5-kilogram cartons had gone to the U.K., compared to 354,648 at the same time last year and 1,329,030 the year previous. For mainland Europe, the number fell to 344,459, compared to 382,200 in 2011-12 and 2,365,882 in 2010-11.
SATI made no direct mention to disruption in the Hex River Valley, the crux of vineyard labor unrest. The report described weather conditions as excellent and crops as healthy. Early varieties still expected an 8-10 day harvest delay, however. Mid- to late-season varieties were expected to experience a 4-8 day harvest delay.
Delays were also expected in the Oliphants and Berg River regions.
In the meantime, Brits said the main concern is to make a European market splash before year's end when competition intensifies.
"Everyone is chasing Europe and the U.K. to get volume into the European market before end of Christmas. So I normally try to get volume into the market up to week 51. Early week 51 means the fruit is still getting sold before Christmas. That is always, every year when the highest prices are expected," he said.
Before Christmas, Brits said a pallet can sell for as high as €19 (US$24.70). Around the time Chile hits the market, however, prices drop and South Africa must look for secure markets elsewhere, like the Far East and Russia.
The company's last pre-Christmas vessels will set sail this week with 400 to 500 pallets. By season's close, Brits estimated 2 to 2.2 million total cartons will have been shipped from Afrifresh Group to Europe.