Winter grape import supplies may be substantially up

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Winter grape import supplies may be substantially up

This winter European and Asian markets are expected to import “the same volume, or a little less” from Peruvian and Chilean grape shippers in the view of John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., Inc., Delano, CA.

Given this scenario, those South American shippers will likely be looking to increase export volumes to the U.S.

“It’s a scary thing that this could get out of hand,” Pandol told on Nov. 17. “There’s a fear with the base of importers that extra volume will show up. That is the elephant in the room!”

Pandol said “the inelastic European market only absorbs a certain volume and beyond the program amounts, there is very little additional market.”

In contrast the US has regional independent supermarket chains that can respond to increased volumes and do this to compete against the big program buyers.

In mid-November, he shared that “the earliest Peruvian grapes are beginning to arrive in the U.S. in anticipation of transition dates, which occur in December or January, depending on the buyer. Peruvian grapes have been present in Mexico and some Central American countries, but at lower prices."

Pandol said Far East and Latin American importers are being conservative for both economic and supply chain reasons.

Those in the winter grape business “are still feeling burned fingers” after Peruvian fruit stacked atop the peak Chilean volume early in 2022. The inclination now is to move Peruvian grape volume early to avoid another collision with Chile.

Pandol said 99% of California’s grape harvest was complete, with the very last grapes to be picked in the Nov. 25-30 timeframe.

"There were a larger than normal amount of grapes not harvested, for a variety of reasons."  Pandol estimates 3-4% of the potential fresh crop was diverted to wineries or other byproducts. 

California’s table grape estimate for 2022 was 97 million boxes. The final fresh volume will measure in the low 90s, by Pandol’s estimation. 

It was not a normal marketing season, he adds, speculating that grape sales in the U.S. may have been set back by labor shortages, with chains suffering produce department staff shortages, and therefore concerned about having too many labor-intensive grape displays. 

Furthermore, he believes online consumer buying may reduce grape sales. “A consumer typing in a search term and see only four or eight digital images does not create the impulse purchase of walking into a store and seeing a large display of fresh and fabulous California grapes.”

The 2022 California grape season was also tough because international demand “was not as snappy as it should have been.” Exports were better this year than last, but sales to the Far East and Latin America were not what they were before the pandemic.

Pandol suggests another important factor that may haunt growers is that some of their new tasty proprietary varieties may be negatively impacting overall sales.  In red and white seedless, varietal preferences lead many perfectly good reds or whites being forced into artificially short market windows or becoming obsolete all together. In blacks and specialty grapes the expectations for demand never materialized and now there is oversupply that simply goes unharvested.

In essence, he said the table grape industry faces issues relating to varietal preference, varietal obsolescence and an oversupply of niche grapes.

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