A string of freezes in Chile in September took a toll on the country’s grape crop, but volumes slated for shipment to North America may not be significantly affected.
Karen Brux, North American managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif., said Chilean grape production estimates have been reduced as a result of the freezes.
“The most recent estimates show a 10-15% decrease in volume,” she said. “This is an estimate of total volume, however, and not an estimate of exports to North America.”
Chilean shippers will bend over backwards to make sure enough fruit gets to the U.S., Brux said.
“We’re expecting very healthy volumes into this market,” she said. “The U.S. is by far the largest export market for Chilean grapes and will continue to be a key destination for Chile’s largest fruit export.”
Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Capespan North America LLC, St. Laurent, Quebec, said the freeze could disrupt the flow of Chilean grapes this season, as growing regions that were affected more than others come into production.
“The effect of the freeze — on table grapes, anyway — is said to be fairly dramatic, especially on specific varieties from specific regions,” Greenberg said. “We will likely see a relative shortage of white seedless grapes in February and early March, and perhaps a more pronounced gap between the end of the flame crop and the start of the crimsons in late March.”
The freeze won’t be the only factor that could limit shipments of some Chilean grape varieties to North America, Greenberg said.
“The shortage of white seedless grapes will be exacerbated by strong demand in other high-paying markets such as Korea, a favorite destination for Chilean thompson seedless that are strong enough to make the journey.”
Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC’s Chilean deal got off to a slow start this season, with less fruit shipping in December, but it was due more to California lingering in the deal than any freeze-related problems, said Josh Leichter, general manager.
“We haven’t seen an effect on quality and size thus far,” Leichter said.
That could change, however, as harder-hit regions come into production, he said.
Sugraones and, to a lesser extent, flames south of Santiago will likely be affected by the freezes, but it won’t be until later in January when importers know how much, Leichter said.
Strong demand in the first half of January for Chilean grapes was not the result of the freezes, Leichter said.
“Independent of that, there’s good demand for grapes in the winter months,” he said. “There are good, promotable volumes.”
Freeze damage should increase demand for Chilean grapes, particularly those varieties hardest hit, said Chris DeSana, grape commodity manager for Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International.
“We expect strong demand throughout, especially for green seedless, as they were most affected by the frost.”
While it’s still too early to gauge the full extent of damage from the September freezes, DeSana is cautiously optimistic heading into the shipping season from the hardest-hit districts.
“We’ve just started to pack in the regions most affected by the frost,” he said Jan. 7. “First impression is that the sugraones may have more damage than originally estimated, but there is still enough volume to promote.”