Grape export volume remains strong

06/23/2010 12:59:42 PM
Tom Burfield

Although the majority of California-grown table grapes are sold domestically, a large part of the volume — about 40% — goes to the export market, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.

Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., for example, exports grapes to more than 20 countries, said Tristan Kieva, director of business development and marketing.

The company, which launched its export program about 25 years ago, even has an office in Washington, D.C., which handles exports of citrus, apples and melons as well as grapes, she said.

Asia, including Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore, as well as Oceania and the United Kingdom rank among the firm’s top export destinations.

Despite the weak global economy, export volume has remained consistent for the Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co., said managing partner Chuck Olsen.

The firm had good success with its export program to Vietnam last year and also ships to Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines.

At Castle Rock Vineyards, Delano, “Exports are a major component of our sales,” said Jim Llano, sales manager.

Asia, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom and Latin America are the firm’s major export markets. Shipments to Canada have continued to grow, he said, and although overall shipments to Asia have increased as a result of new shipments to mainland China, movement to Taiwan has fallen off, and sales to Hong Kong, which continues to be a strong market, are having less of an effect because of those increased direct shipments to mainland China, Llano said.

Shipments to the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand also are stable, he said, and movement to Vietnam has picked up.

Exports from Delano-based Columbine Vineyards are “a significant part of our program,” said Chris Caratan, vice president.

But he said one concern shippers have this season is the effect that the discovery of invasive pests may have on exports. One such pest, the spotted-wing drosophila, already has affected shipments to Australia, said Clay Wittmeyer, export sales manager for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif.

Australian biosecurity has not issued import permits for this season’s California grapes, he said, and that is causing concern for California growers.

“Australian Quarantine Information Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are in daily communication to mitigate the issue and bring it to a conclusion,” Wittmeyer said.

He estimated that as much as $50 million dollars in export sales are at risk.

Export volume varies a bit from year to year at Fresno-based Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, said partner Atomic Torosian. But the company typically exports about 15% of its volume, largely the autumn royal and red globe varieties.

Those same varieties are the major export grapes for the Chuck Olsen Co., but the firm also exports some crimsons and scarlet royals, Olsen said. The company ships its exports in foam containers packed 77 or 78 per pallet. The firm exports about 25% of its volume.

Crimson seedless is the variety that Castle Rock typically exports to the United Kingdom, Llano said, and the red globe ships mostly to Asia. Buyers in Hong Kong and China have expressed interest in the black seedless autumn royal variety.

Not long ago, most export buyers wanted plain-pack grapes, Llano said, but today most prefer bags, like those that domestic retailers use.

Export requirements vary by country among Pandol Bros. customers, Kieva said.

“(Buyers) are very specific on size and color,” she said. “They usually like a large grape with a full color.”



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