Volumes could be light at beginning of Chilean grape deal

11/06/2013 10:58:00 AM
Andy Nelson

While it’s still too soon to tell for sure the effect September freezes in Chile will have on U.S. grape markets, U.S. shippers and importers are beginning to make predictions — including tighter markets at the beginning of the season.

“The deal could get interesting,” said Steve Shear, salesman for Delano, Calif.-based Castle Rock Vineyards. “It looks like the front end of the deal could be affected.”

Castle Rock expects to have steady volumes of high-quality California grapes through the end of the year, Shear said. At the end of December, he said, supplies should start to taper off for the season.

Early arrivals from Chile’s Copiapo region aren’t expected to be significantly affected by the freezes, said Angie Eastham, sales manager for Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC.

The first vessel from Chile is expected to arrive on the East Coast Dec. 15, Eastham said. That’s slightly later than last year, but could be do more to recent trends of slightly later arrivals rather than a reflection on this year’s weather, she said.

What could affect early volumes more than anything, Eastham said, is fewer ships bringing product to market. Because other fruits were affected by the freeze, overall Chilean volumes may be low enough to warrant just one vessel per week, less than normal, she said.

Because of the abundant volumes late out of California, a slow start to the Chilean deal wouldn’t likely create havoc in the market, though California shippers should reap some benefits, Shear said.

“I don’t think it will be anything too drastic, but it should be good for us,” he said. “I’m not too worried that we’ll have to go out and promote heavily to clean up.”

On Nov. 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.55-18.55 for 19-pound cartons of large and extra-large crimson seedless grapes from California, down from $20.10-22.10 last year at the same time.

Eastham agreed that California is in a good position to carry the deal until Chile comes with volume.

“It could be a pretty smooth transition,” she said. “California is shipping 3.5 million to 4 million boxes per week, which should take care of inventories.”

While early-season Chilean perlettes were not expected to be affected, green varieties slated to arrive in January and February could be down, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. will get fewer, Eastham said.


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