Chilean cherry exports are running higher than last year's record-breaking season, but weekly shipping volumes for what remains of the campaign are likely to see a sharp decline.
Total exports until week 1 were 13% higher year-on-year at 161,394 metric tons (MT) - equivalent to almost 35 million boxes - while to the Far Eastern market they were up 17%.
By the same week the previous season, 142,918MT had been shipped to all markets, eventually finishing the campaign on 187,066MT.
Manuel Alcaino of market intelligence company Decofrut told Fresh Fruit Portal there would likely be a sharp drop in weekly shipping volumes for the final few weeks, and that he expected the 2018-19 season would finish with similar export volumes to the previous season. Pre-season industry estimates had put lower exports than last season.
He explained that the final few weeks of 2018 had seen significantly higher export volumes than 2017 - in week 52 Chile shipped 38,771MT compared to 31,113MT last season - but by week one this year the volumes had already dropped slightly below last season's level, registering at 27,568MT compared to 28,823MT.
"We should see a strong downward trend with volume this year," Alcaino said.
Two key reasons for exports running 13% higher year-on-year are likely an early start to the harvests as well as an earlier date for major shopping period in Chile's leading market, Chinese New Year, which would have encouraged exporters to ship their fruit earlier.
In addition, Alcaino said there were some other important factors at play supporting the industry this year and facilitating an even greater proportion of volumes being shipped to China.
"Last year, the industry wasn't prepared for such a large harvest," he said, explaining there had been delays due to issues in areas such as labor availability for harvesting and in packing capacity.
"But this year there are numerous new packhouses, I think there are around eight or 10 new ones, and so the fruit has not had to wait and has in fact left very quickly. The other thing this year is that we have had a higher quantity of fast boasts."
The express shipping services to China shave off around a week of transit time compared to conventional services, allowing more fruit to arrive before Chinese New Year and in a fresher condition.
He said the higher availability of these fast boats would have also contributed to the greater proportion of cherries being shipped to the Far Eastern market - 92% until week 1 compared to 90% last season - as more fruit in sub-optimal conditions can be sent to the distant market due to the shorter transit time.
The greater share of cherries sent to the Far East had led to declines for other markets, including a 31% drop for North America (5,043MT), a 7% reduction for Latin America (4,940MT), and a 15% decline for Europe (2,347MT).
He also expected a "very good end" to the harvests in Chile, providing there is no rain, and predicted there was still approximately 20,000MT of fruit left to ship.
As for market conditions in China, Alcaino said that average prices across all varieties have been slightly lower than last season, which he attributed largely to the greater volumes in the market.
But with high-quality later-season varieties such as Bing, Kodria and Regina starting to be sold, he anticipated that prices could improve slightly. He said that the first Chilean Bing cherries have been selling in China over the last couple of weeks and have been fetching similar or even slightly higher prices than last year, while the first Australian Kordia cherries - which arrive before Chilean Kordia and after a shorter transit time - have been achieving significantly higher prices than last year.
"[With the new varieties the market] is going to react well. I think that in terms of prices they should be very similar to last year," he said.
Data source: Export Data ASOEX/Decofrut