Demand for Chilean grapes grew strong in mid-February, and markets are likely to tighten further as the end of the deal nears.

Reedley, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC reports good movement and demand for red and green grapes from Chile in mid-February, said Dirk Winkelmann, the company’s international business development director.

Pacific Trellis found itself in a short supply situation on green Chilean grapes the week of Feb. 13.

Mid-February was a transition period for Pacific Trellis, with flames giving way to rubies and crimsons on reds and sugraones giving way to thompsons on greens, he said.

Fruit size and volumes should improve as fruit begins coming to the U.S. from growing regions south of Santiago, said David Sudduth, director of global operations for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif.

Because of competition from Europe, Asia and other markets, Chilean shipments to the U.S. are down about 10% compared to the same time last season, Sudduth said.

But with the transition to growing areas unaffected by 2011 freezes, that supply gap should close, Sudduth said.

An early end to the Chilean deal should strengthen already-solid markets even more in coming months, Sudduth said.

On Feb. 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $22-24 for 18-pound containers of bagged extra-large Chilean Thompsons, up from $20 last year at the same time.

Containers of large flames were $18, up from $14-16.

There won’t be as much fruit shipping after the marketing order deadline of April 10, after which Chilean fruit must meet a higher grade to be exported to the U.S., Sudduth said.

An earlier Easter also will help spike demand at the end of the deal.

“It’s April 8 this year versus April 22 last year, which makes a big difference,” Sudduth said.

Markets on red Chilean grapes through February and into March will either stay stable or strengthen, as supplies will be limited due to competing markets, Winkelmann said.

Green grape prices should remain in the $18-24 box range, he said.

Despite the strong demand and movement, there were some size, color and quality issues on both red and green varieties from Chile in February, Winkelmann said.

“It’s been a little more of a struggle moving problem lots,” he said.

The quality and size issues are a surprise, Winkelmann said, given the good growing conditions in Chile. He expects importers to battle those issues for the duration of the Chilean deal.