Over the last 10 years, the table grape industry has shown great dynamism, especially in the Southern Hemisphere.
As the sector grew, so did the challenges. Over a few years, significant suppliers disappeared while others emerged and grew so rapidly that today they dominate the market.
The destinations also changed with traditional markets not always being the most attractive and today, interest is focused on newer promising markets.
The table grape was one of the most successful fruits in recent years with supplies from the Southern Hemisphere gaining ground. Chile, as a pioneer in the business, did a great initial job which was later joined by other countries.
Some of the reasons for this phenomenon are:
Due to this, shipments from the Southern Hemisphere continue to grow year after year. In the last 20 years, the volumes exported increased by 50 percent, from 0.9 million to the current 1.4 million metric tons.
Ten to fifteen years ago, Chile was the undisputed supplier of southern grapes. It was the most successful fruit when it started as a world fruit supplier and because of this, it became the world's leading exporter, supplying mainly the North American and European markets with grapes during the winter.
For many years, grapes were the most exported fruits by Chile but as the sector grew and dominated, the situation got complicated.
First, competitors with advantages over Chile emerged, which began to dispute the markets.
Added to this were other factors such as the growing water issue, with grapes demanding more of this scarce commodity than other corps. Another issue was the varietal replacement which was not easy for Chilean producers to deal with.
Ten years ago, Chile exported more than 800,000 metric tons (MT), but these levels could not be sustained in the following years. As of 2012-13, the results of the seasons have decreased year after year including last season which totaled 534,000MT, marking a decrease of 35 percent.
Together with the decrease in exports, Chile's participation in the Southern Hemisphere sector fell. From contributing 70 percent of the hemisphere's total exports, it went on to contribute only 38 percent last season.
Neighboring Peru followed the opposite path of Chile, strongly expanding grape production, a process that also occurred in other crops such as blueberries and avocados.
The advantages that Peru has are its climate, without the heat or cold that characterizes other regions, the large availability of land, relatively cheap labor and the low incidence of pests and diseases.
Along with the expansion of table grape production came exports of the fruit. While in 2010-11 the country exported about 90,000MT, this year the season closed with 470,000MT.
In other words, exports have increased fivefold through this period, thanks to an intense and sustained growth, supported by the incorporation of new hectares, improvements in production, higher yields and a strong varietal change, from the classic Red Globe to the newly patented varieties.
South Africa also made progress in growing and exporting grapes with several producing regions which allow it to have a long supply period and cushion possible losses due to climatic problems, with higher harvests in others.
In 2010-11, the country exported around 202,000MT and in 2020-21 the total was 60 percent higher, reaching 323,000MT. Although South Africa has experienced considerable growth, the evolution has not been as marked as in Peru's case.
From 2016-17 to date, volumes have remained relatively constant, between 250-300,000MT, with this last season being one of the higher growth and record volumes.
Over the last decade, the country reported a fairly even export between 30-60,000MT. The fluctuations year after year depend on the harvest, but also on the exchange rate and the volume consumed in the domestic market, which in Brazil's case has a lot of weight.
Its participation within the Southern Hemisphere total is around three to five percent with no major changes over recent years.
Not only have the suppliers undergone changes, but the markets have as well. Historically, the main market for Chile has been North America. In 2010-11, 55 percent of the total was allocated and in 2020-21, 51 percent.
Europe decreased from 21 percent in 2010-11 to 12 percent for the 2020-21 season due to diversification to new destinations, mainly oriented to Asia. Ten years ago it received 16 percent of Chilean shipments, while now it scales to 26 percent.
Peru is increasingly oriented to the North American market, with 26 percent of its exports destined for there in 2010-11 which rose to 46 percent today. Europe maintains a more stable participation between 25 and 27 percent. The markets that have pulled back have been the Far East-Asia, from 27 to 16 percent and even more so Russia from 12 to 3 percent.
In South America's case, the changes have not been so marked. In 2010-11, around 75 percent of its production was destined to Europe, with Asia being the second most important destination with 18 percent. Today, although Europe remains the main destination without having substantially modified its importance, it is in the secondary markets where some changes have been seen. Asian destination have fallen to 14 percent and North America has started to rise with seven percent.
Authors: Carolina De Francesco & Ing.Agr. Betina Ernst
Weeks ahead of the season’s first South African grape exports, South Africa’s table grape industry released a strong statement on Sept. 22. The indication is that its growers are ready for a much better season than the last.