Grape expectations are changing.
California’s expansion in later season grape varieties is likely to be “far more transformative that the rise of Flame Seedless in the 1980s,” Rick Eastes, Visalia-based marketing consultant with Rixx international Marketing Co. Inc., recently told me.
In commentary about the grape market, Rick wrote:
It has taken five years to begin to see the major shift in volume from strong plantings of new late season varieties, many of them proprietary. The current shipments now show the beginning of “the future” in table grape supplies in the third 3rd quarter of the year.
This is going to create a major shift in demand for Brazilian green seedless as well as early Peruvian and Chilean Flames going forward, especially in the USA and Canadian markets.
Pristine seedless will likely surpass 3.5 million boxes, and the volumes of Autumn King will see another dramatic increase in shipments between now and December 31st. I suspect the current graph will begin to show a completely new graph line sector when weekly shipments show values like more than 1 million boxes MORE were shipped in Week 11/8 that last season’s volume.
Certainly, the ideal weather, 25 C highs, and 7C lows, and zero rain is going to extend harvest, but it appears that the industry will blow right past the 100 million 9.6 kg box record set in 2012.
There will likely be ancillary effects on early season citrus, apples, and pears, as well, but calculating the effect will be initially impossible because the California grape industry is moving into a new era of production, primarily in the late season.
Because a larger volume is now exported, primarily to Asia, the total affect may be spread out over the domestic and export markets. This may have more of an effect on Peru, for example, with its concentration on Red Globe plantings in Asia, while the increase in Autumn King will more likely affect domestic demand for Brazilian green seedless, for example.
Rick’s point about the transformative impact of the late season domestic grape deal is well-noted.
The USDA’s National Retail Report for fruits and vegetables revealed that for Nov. 15, grapes accounted for `15% of the total fruit ads, topped only by 24% for apples. That compares with Nov. 16 a year ago, when grapes accounted for just 8% of total fruit ads, the same percentage as pineapples, oranges and pears and a notch lower than cranberries at 9%. Apples accounted for 19% of total fruit ads on Nov. 16 last year.
USDA reports the number of U.S. retail stores promoting red seedless grapes on Nov. 15 this year was 11,940, compared with just 6,759 stores at the same time a year ago. White seedless grapes were on ad at 5,421 stores on Nov. 15 this year, way up from 2,830 stores the same week last year.
California grapes are clearly throwing their weight around and USDA statistics show weekly shipments of California table grapes in mid-November were running at 3.7 million boxes, 800,000 boxes per week more than a year ago and 500,000 cartons per week more than two years ago.
Taking advantage of favorable harvest conditions, Eastes said that California table grape shipments this season may blow past 110 million boxes after reaching the lofty 100 million box summit last year.
The new reality of increased volume of table grapes offered to consumers in the third and fourth quarters from California will bump up against not only Southern Hemisphere winter season suppliers of grapes, but also marketers of competitive fruits like citrus, apples, pears and more. Promotions will be more difficult to secure with 15 million more cartons of California seedless grapes in the supply pipeline.
As if that is not enough change, Eastes said USDA grape breeders have developed a white seedless variety called Valley Pearl that is expected to grow early season California volume over the next few years.
More thoughts from Eastes in upcoming grape coverage, but suffice it to say he has identified a trend the entire universe of fruit marketers need to pay attention to.