California table grapes struggle in Asia due to Hurricane Hilary

It has not been an easy season for California table grape growers after Hurricane Hilary hit the state in August when peak production levels are usually reached. 

A USDA national sales report shows that as of  Sept. 29, there were 55% fewer stores promoting grapes than last year, while 56% fewer stores are promoting seedless grapes during the same week year-on-year. 

Additionally, seedless grapes’ price per pound increased 39% year-on-year. 

The loss of 25 million boxes was felt by international importers, especially by some Asian clients experiencing lower volume and difficulty guaranteeing the quality of the fruit arriving at port. However, there are exceptions.

Mixed reactions from Asian markets

According to the Market Intelligence Report of the California Table Grape Commission, California grapes supply at wholesale markets in Hong Kong have increased significantly with the coming Mid-Autumn Festival. All three colors are available; with green grapes in excellent quality and big size, the report says. 

In Japan, however, importers remain concerned about Hurricane Hilary impacting California grape supplies, even as the fruit continues to enter the market via ocean and air shipments. Two importers noted that many suppliers are not offering ocean freight.

Importers report that their volume is between 25% and 50% lower than the same time last year. Contributing to this are high prices of California table grapes and quality concerns about fruit entering the market.

Several importers indicate that promotional opportunities are expected to be limited unless the supply stabilizes and prices come down.

Depreciation of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar is also contributing to higher prices for imported fruit such as California table grapes.

Similarly, in South Korea, even though shipments continue to arrive, importers report that quality and price have been impacted by Hurricane Hilary. Because of decreased supply caused by the hurricane, FOB prices are reported to have increased at least $10 per case, even as quality issues, such as skin breakdown, decay, cracks, stem cap damage, etc., are reported. 

Importers note very minimal tolerance for these kinds of defects, limiting opportunities for ocean shipments, further compounding the challenging price point. These factors are putting a damper on the season, with volume reported to be approximately 40-45% lower than the prior year.

Table grapes arriving in Singapore have also shown poor quality, leading many importers to focus on air shipments, reducing their risk and getting the grapes faster. While importers do not expect a shortage of stock, they do expect higher prices.

In Vietnam, importers report difficulty importing California grapes by sea since Hilary. Many shippers said they cannot guarantee the quality when delivered by ocean container.

The trend appears to be that since the weather events in California impacted grape suppliers, importers are committing air freight.

Most importers in Taiwan and Malaysia share that they are happy with the quality of the grapes they have received, mainly what is received by air.

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