Chilean shipping adjustment to "alleviate" table grape backlog in the U.S.

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An earlier Flame Seedless deal out of Chile has led to an unusual surge in exports in the season to date, but an expected gap in supply and a rescheduling of ships may help take the pressure off inventories in the U.S.

This is the view of Decofrut director Manuel José Alcaíno, who tells Fresh Fruit Portal the scenario stems from both market and production factors. 

"Today there is a great backlog of grapes in the ports of Philadelphia - in different terminals and cold storage facilities everything is full," he says.

"The volume of fruit isn’t so great in itself compared to what usually arrives every year in the months of February and March, but as they arrived earlier the promotions and sales weren’t ready, and nor was the shelf space there so this fruit could be adequately sold."

According to Decofrut's analysis of data from the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX), Chilean table grape export volumes that left for the U.S. market were up 37% in the 2016-17 season to week 3, at a level of 12.4 million boxes.

Most remarkable was the fact Chile's U.S.-bound grape exports in the last three weeks of 2016 were up by 3.3 million boxes in year-on-year terms.

"So what we've seen now is the ships haven't been able to be unloaded ships at the normal pace because the terminals are still full of fruit and the space hasn't been freed up," he says.

However, for the ships that have disembarked from Chile in the first three weeks of 2017, volumes are down 15% at 4,673 boxes.

"Additionally there is the situation in the sense that there are less Flame Seedless grapes because of the rains; a lot of fruit was lost," he says.

"Normally you have Flame and then comes Thompson [Seedless], and you have continuity. But what has happened is there is a gap between the Flames and the Thompsons because the Flames finished earlier and there was less, and the Thompsons haven't started.

"So these two situations, of the backlog and the production situation, have translated to a rescheduling of ships."

He says the Global Reefers ship Santa Lucia set off for the United States on Jan. 20, but another ship Crown Emma - which was due to leave on Jan. 22 - was rescheduled for a new date "to be determined.

"This will give more space between the ships," Alcaino says, adding other departures include Polar on Jan. 25 and Hellas on Feb. 2.

"The shipping line Cool Carriers has done something similar," he adds.

"This reprogramming of ships has various effects. Firstly it’ll lead to a relief of fruit arrivals which firstly will allow for the inventories to be sold without so much pressure."

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