(Dec. 19) An unfavorable exchange rate, tough import regulations and inclement weather are expected to put a dent in supplies of winter grapes from South Africa, importers and distributors said, and Chilean grape volumes leading into the new year also are down.

“South Africa probably will not be loading big volumes of conventional table grapes for North America,” said Mark Greenberg, senior vice president of procurement for Fisher-Capespan Inc., St. Laurent, Quebec.

Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., the sole North American marketer of Superior Seedless sugraone grapes from South Africa, won’t be bringing in any product this year, said Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“They’re all destined for Europe and the Pacific Rim,” he said. “The weakness of the dollar is playing a big role.”

Markets for conventional grapes should stay firm through mid-January, when volume shipments from Chile’s Copiapo region begin arriving, Greenberg said.

Erratic weather in the Southern Hemisphere was limiting volumes in South Africa’s Northern Cape region, just as it was in Chile in the first half of December, Greenberg said.

Cool weather set the Chilean deal back about three weeks for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., said Anthony Stetson, vice president of sales.

Supplies for Christmas and New Year’s are “drastically off,” Stetson said. Importers hope to begin seeing volume shipments by mid-January, with promotions possible by the end of the month, but even that’s not guaranteed, Stetson said.
On Dec. 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $44-46 for 18-pound containers of bagged perlettes from Chile, up from $20-22 last year at the same time.

In addition to the weather problems, South African shippers, as they did last year, are steering clear of the U.S. because of a methyl bromide fumigation protocol instituted in 2004. Combined with the stress of a long sea voyage, the phytosanitary treatments can damage stems and reduce crispness, Greenberg said.

The strength of the South African rand in relation to the dollar also doesn’t help, Greenberg said. United Kingdom and continental European markets are much more attractive to shippers of conventional South African grapes, he said.

Fisher-Capespan is, however, increasing its imports of organic South African grapes to U.S. markets this year, Greenberg said. The company expects to import about 125,000 packages of organic product, about twice as much as last year, he said.