Suppliers expect Chilean grapes to be down by about 10%, and uncertainty still remains surrounding the potential effect of El Niño in the southern growing regions.
Delays of up to 15 days are affecting grapes in the north, where spring freezes in regions III, IV and V have damaged up to 40% of some crops. Lower-than-normal temperatures in the central and south of the country are resulting in smaller grapes and fewer bunches.
“I thing that it will be a season of fruit with very good quality,” said Rodrigo Echeverria, chairman of Fedefruta, the Santiago-based Chilean fruit growers group.
“At the beginning, it will be a little light and delayed because of the spring weather delay, but we are calm and believe there will be a recovery in the final stages.”
Tom Tjerandsen, marketing manager for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., agreed that the problem is more associated with the early varieties, which do not account for a significant portion of the total grapes from Chile.
“We’re still expecting to have a full complement of grapes arriving in North America that should approach last year’s total,” he said.
Tjerandsen said that last year thompson seedless accounted for 16 million boxes; plain seedless, 14 million; crimson seedless, 12 million; sugraone, 5 million; and red globes, 2 million.
“Some of the importers say as many as 7 million boxes have been lost to freeze,” he said, noting that would drop imports to near 2008 levels of about 51 million boxes.
Nonetheless, there are still worries coming into the season.
“There are concerns about the weather, concerns about prices, concerns about the extent to which the market will continue to increase sales,” he said.
Brian Schiro, grape category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y., said he is confident volumes will start to increase in January, and he said he is more concerned with the impact of the economy and unemployment rate on consumer habits.
“We feel that grapes are sheltered by this a little bit,” he said. “I think the outlook is pretty good for grapes in general.”
Schiro also said he is concerned about inconsistent sizing that resulted from uneven flowering in the springtime. The drawback also makes harvesting more labor intensive because pickers are required to make several passes through vineyards.
“The market itself is a good indicator that this season is struggling to get started,” said Craig Uchizono, vice president of Southern Hemisphere for the Giumarra Cos, Los Angeles, Calif.
“Volumes do look to be down in the beginning of the season. I don’t think there will be any normality until Santiago south. We do anticipate to see nice fruit and more of a steady flow to markets,” he said.