Despite a late start to the Chilean grape season, volumes should be similar to last year, importers said.
Fluctuating temperatures during the Chilean spring — cool weather one week, warm weather the next — threw a wrench in the beginning of the U.S. export deal, said Josh Leichter, director of the grape category in the Newark, Del., office of Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
“It really had a big impact on the plants,” Leichter said. “It’s been a strange start.”
By the week of Jan. 3, volumes were starting to pick up, albeit slowly, Leichter said.
“By the end of January we should be back to quote, unquote normal,” he said.
That said, when the season winds down, total volumes may not reach earlier estimates, he said.
“The initial feeling was that volumes would catch up,” Leichter said. “Now, as growers are picking and packing, the packouts are less than expected.”
For Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International LLC, the first shipment of the season arrived in Philadelphia Dec. 16, with the deal expected to wind down in mid-May, said Mark Lewis, executive vice president.
Shipments started in a small way the week of Dec. 5 for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, said Craig Uchizono, vice president of Southern Hemisphere.
“As the weeks progress, for sure we will see steady increases for both coasts,” Uchizono said.
The cool December weather may have delayed harvests, but it also kept acid levels high, improving the quality of perlettes and superiors, said Dave Sudduth, director of global operations for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif.
Warmer weather later in the month brought the sugars on, Sudduth said, and as a result, fruit shipping over the next several weeks should be very high-quality.
Season-end volumes could wind up being 10% lower than preseason projections, which forecast a crop in the 55-million-box range typical of recent years. If that holds true, the 2010-11 Chilean grape deal would wind up being similar in size to last season’s total of 51 million boxes.
For the time being, at least, Giumarra is planning on a supply increase over 2009-10.
“Right now, the anticipation is to see more volumes from the previous year arriving to the U.S. marketplace,” Uchizono said. “It’s too early to guess, but that is the plan.”
Sizing was a challenge early in the season but was improving by early January, Leichter said. Quality has been good all season, he said.
In late December, both the Atacama and Coquimbo regions were running at least 10 days behind where they were in 2009-10 at the same time, according to a report from SimFruit, a market analysis joint venture of the Santiago-based Chilean Exporters Association (ASOEX) and Fedefruta.