Chilean grape importers expect stronger markets

01/12/2012 02:19:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Importers of Chilean grapes expect sluggish late 2011 markets to strengthen in 2012.

Mark Greenberg, senior vice president of procurement and chief operating officer of Fisher Capespan, St. Laurent, Quebec, expects steady demand once Chile has the U.S. grape deal to itself, but the beginning of the season was volatile.

The market was sluggish and unsettled at the end of 2011, Greenberg said, but was starting to turn around in early January.

“Movement has been picking up since the New Year,” he said Jan. 10.

The problem in December, Greenberg said, was an overabundance of fruit from several growing regions. California was expected to ship storage reds through the second week of January, and product was also coming in from Brazil and other South American growing areas.

It’s difficult, Greenberg said, for early product from Chile to compete, price-wise, with end-of-the-season California fruit.

“In the $18-per-box range, California makes an attractive product because Chile is well in excess of that,” he said.

“We expect to see at least the low 30s (for Chilean grapes in December). From the reports we’ve heard, movement is slow at that level.”

Greenberg speculated that Americans may be spending their money more carefully this year, and are less willing to splurge on more expensive early-season Chilean grapes.

“The early Chilean product has been harder to move than anyone expected,” he said.

Demand for Chilean red varieties in particular, Greenberg said, will likely be tepid until the New Year.

Because of a freeze during the Chilean winter, product wasn’t expected to arrive as soon as it did, said Josh Leichter, East Coast vice president and grape category director with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

As a result, and combined with California still shipping significant volumes in December, retailers weren’t prepared to promote Chilean product in December, Leichter said.

That kept movement and demand down, he said. But by January, things were starting to turn.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest so far in January, and movement is picking up,” Leichter said Jan. 6.

Prices were starting to come down in early January as more Chilean product entered the market, but Leichter expected them to stabilize by mid- to late January.

Francisco Chacon, marketing director for Santiago-based Dole Chile SA, also reported sluggish demand at the beginning of the Chilean grape deal in the U.S.


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