Chilean grapes go to waste as fruit floods U.S. market

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Chilean grapes go to waste as fruit floods U.S. market

With climatic ups and downs, Chile's table grape growers have not had an easy year. Unpredictable conditions have also meant unpredictable markets, with reports coming out of the U.S. that overzealous shipments from Chile have forced fruit to go to waste.uvas_57366178

Capespan North America CEO Mark Greenberg explained that what started off as a low-supply year has turned into a market glut, accompanied by low fruit quality.

"The season started off with very, very light volumes of table grapes from Chile right through January. Not a lot of fruit was moving because there wasn’t a lot of fruit to move," he said.

Unseasonal rains, particularly in the Aconcagua Valley, later dealt a blow to fruit condition right before the Flame Seedless harvest, Greenberg elaborated. As volume increased and quality dropped, Chile began to push shipments, leading the market to the complicated situation occurring right now.

"Prices before that had been quite high so there was not a lot of promotional activity in the market at all. The fruit arrived. Especially the Flames and to some extent the Sugraones came in with really poor condition, primarily because of the rain and to some extent the spring conditions in Chile," he said.

"What that resulted in was a market that had an awful lot of fruit as we moved out of February and into March. A lot of fruit, not a lot of movement and a lot of fruit that was not holding up well."

The South American director for Crown Jewels Produce William Lewis, described a similar situation that has left marketers desperate to move fruit.

"I’ve heard of 40 truckloads of Flames being moved on a consignment basis to a major market and then another 40 loads looking for homes after the first 40 were moved," he said.

"In other words, take all you want. Another story here was 180,000 boxes of Flames being dumped by a major receiver.

"Another story here is Flame Seedless being sold for what it costs to cut an in-voice, so we’re talking about a few cents, maybe a dollar a box. The other stories I hear are marketers begging intermediates to take the fruit."

Looking at shipment statistics, 2013 well exceeded last year's numbers, Lewis explained. With poor quality and increased supply, demand cannot keep up.

"We saw demand exceed supply for all of the early fruit and excellent prices for fruit in the early season. But if you look at the statistics, week number 8, last year at this time we had 1.8 million arriving to the United States and this year 3.1 million.

"Week 9, last year 1.7 million and this year 2.8 million - there’s just a lot of fruit reaching the market toward the end and it’s flooded the market," he said.

"The market is very depressed because Flames are considered by the market to be of inferior quality and condition, which is very, very true."

Greenberg added that much of the current market saturation can be explained by a push to reach the U.S. before Chile is forced out of the market.

"The marketing order goes into effect in April, so Chilean growers want to get as much of their seedless grapes and Thompsons into the market before the marketing order," Greenberg said.

"There’s a rush to meet the deadline. There’s a lot fruit arriving in Philadelphia. The coolers at all the warehouses by the port in the Northeast have a pretty substantial inventory of fruit. There’s some good fruit but there’s also some fruit that needs to be moved before it shows its age."

The saving grace for Chile will hopefully be the Crimson Seedless, which will close out the season.

"In April, we’re going to start seeing strength and I’m hoping we will clear out the weaker fruit. Then the season will end with the Crimson Seedless grape which has pretty good condition," Greenberg said.

"It’s a strong grape and tends to hold its condition. So we’ll probably end on a high note with the Crimson but first we’ve got to work through a big volume of Thompson Seedless."

Lewis echoed Greenberg's sentiment on the Crimson Seedless, giving reason to keep fingers crossed for the end of the Chilean campaign.

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