U.S. northeast sees imports of watermelon swell, grapes plummet - FreshFruitPortal.com

U.S. northeast sees imports of watermelon swell, grapes plummet

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U.S. northeast sees imports of watermelon swell, grapes plummet

The mild weather seen in the northeastern United States this winter has triggered more demand for citrus fruit and watermelons.

According to a forecast made by Accuweather.com meteorologist Brett Rathbun on Jan. 29, temperatures for this month will likely be 5-15°F higher on average.

watermelon finalIn conversation with www.freshfruitportal.com, Seven Seas-New Jersey vice president Bill Weyland explained the mild weather seen in December in the northeast likely had some influence on fruit consumption.

"Overall this winter season has been rather mild compared to past years," Weyland said.

"We had a very mild December and this mild weather might have had some impact on citrus consumption as consumers typically consume more citrus in colder weather."

His comments were echoed by Manuel Pinto, manager at Chilean consultancy Decofrut's Philadelphia office, who said the appetite for fruit in general was increasing significantly in the area.

“Demand for citrus is definitely on the rise,” Pinto said.

He said Decofrut had also been seeing a significant increase in watermelon consignments, another fruit typically consumed in warmer weather.

"We've received an impressive supply of watermelons in Philadelphia recently, most likely from Mexico," Pinto said.

"Before I had one container a week carrying this fruit, and now I'm seeing five or six containers a week."

Grape shortage

Meanwhile, the market has seen a severe drop in volumes of grape and cherry imports, which has impacted prices significantly.

"More so white grapes than red are seeing less supply. Anything in the grape variety: red grapes, white grapes, red globes, black grapes, that’s probably the most affected this year as far as supply of winter fruit," said John Durante, president of sales at east coast wholesaler Nardella.

Pinto said so far only half of this fruit that was scheduled to arrive to the northeast had turned up.

"Hardly any cherries have arrived. Around 48,000 boxes were supposed to have arrived, and we've received 24,000," he said.

The dip in grape and cherry shipments is linked to undersupply from the northeast’s main fruit importer, Chile.

"I think the recent weather in Chile and the weather last year that affected the early grape crop, some of the mudslides in the north, has had more of an impact in the northeast on the supply side than our weather," Weyland said.

This undersupply has had a significant impact on prices.

"The growing seasons out of Chile have been later this year so the supply isn’t coming. It's affected us to the point where some of the prices are just out of reach for the regular consumer," said Durante.

"Regarding grapes, everything that has arrived since November has had impressive prices," said Pinto.

"Thompson grapes were at US$40 per box up until last week, and Flame grapes were at US$30 a box. Usually a box of standard quality Flame grapes would be sold for US$22."

Importers have also seen issues with quality of these undersupplied fruits.

Pinto added Flame grapes had arrived covered in mold.

"This fruit is not going to have a long shelf life. After five days you’ll start seeing problems with these grapes," he said.

"As an industry in the last few months we've seen an increased frequency of quality related problems," Weyland added.

Stable margins

Despite the lower supply and poorer quality of these fruits, fruit suppliers in the northeast have seen their profit margins remain stable.

Durante explained that the undersupply of these products and the subsequent boost in prices had not had a significant impact on suppliers.

"Granted, January and February on the East Coast is the slowest time of the year. Summer is when you get the bulk of your produce. But I don't think it's a big, big issue for them. They're just going to replace it with other items. It is an issue, just not a huge issue," said Durante.

"So if you don't have as many say grapes and peaches, nectarines and plums, you'll sell more pears, more varieties."

"Instead of just selling green pears and brown pears, you'll sell red pears and specialty variety pears, whether they're Forelle pears, or Comice pears. Any way they can put more product on the shelf, they're going to fill it up with something."

In short, there still remains a plethora of alternative products available, such as apples and pears, and domestic citrus.

"We as a market in the U.S. have a wide variety of products and domestic imports available year-round," said Weyland.

"Consumers have choices. Do they want to spend US$5 to buy a pound of grapes or do they want to spend US$0.50 a pound and buy bananas, apples or oranges?"

The Prestige Brands Holding (PBH) report on per capita consumption of fruit ranks fruit consumption in the following order: Bananas, apples, berries, oranges, melons, grapes, peaches, pineapples, pears.

Photo: www.shutterstock.com


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