Chilean grape production started slowly but picked up steadily this year.
Retailers can expect plenty of promotable volumes of Chilean grapes through the current season, which will run through April, said Karen Brux, managing director of the San Carlos, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
Total global exports of Chilean grapes through the end of December reached 15,419 tons, which was a “significant decline” from the 31,000 tons of a year earlier, Brux said.
“This is due mainly to weak market conditions in the U.S., which have caused Chile to ship less fruit here,” she said.
Through Week 52, 10,575 tons were shipped to North America, compared to 29,000 at the same time last year. Through the end of December, 71% of all Chilean grape exports went to North America.
California still had product in the U.S. marketplace in mid-December, which also affected Chilean shipments, Brux said.
“With the U.S. market still full of California fruit in December — USDA reports show 55% more California grapes in cold storage in mid-December 2018 vs. mid-December 2017 — Chile has been shipping less to North America and more to Asia,” Brux said.
Chile stepped up shipments to the U.S. by early January, however, with the remaining California inventory having dissipated, Brux said, dropping to 1.5 million cases at the end of the year, according to a recent market report.
“Now that January has arrived and much of the California inventory has cleared, we’ll start to see increased volumes, along with big retail promotions, for Chilean grapes in North America,” she said.
As of the first week in January, harvesting was primarily in the Coquimbo region (IV), with the Valparaiso (V) region starting, Brux said.
The largest shipment of Chilean winter fruit so far this season arrived at the Port of Wilmington Dec. 27. The shipment contained more than 676,000 boxes of fresh table grapes, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums, Brux said. The third bulk reefer was scheduled to arrive the second week of January.
Grape volume from the Copiapó region likely will exceed 10 million boxes this season. The largest volumes from that region were to be harvested from December through mid-January, with late varieties finishing by the first week in March.
North America is the largest market for Chilean grapes, taking in 47% of all Chilean grape exports in 2017-18, Brux said.
Bill Poulos, grape category director for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group, said he expects volumes this year to match year-earlier figures.
“We anticipate red and green grape volumes to be fairly similar to last year, as fortunately the (Nov. 12) hailstorm largely spared Chile’s grape-growing regions,” he said. “With new varieties coming into North America, we expect higher overall volumes in April and May than in the past. This steady supply picture is emerging despite the decline in the flame variety in Northern Chile.”
New varieties will have noticeably higher volumes, said Fernando Soberanes, director of operations for South America with Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos.
“We expect to see increased production of proprietary grape varieties out of Chile as they continue to gain popularity in the market,” he said. “In general, volumes of traditional grape varieties are declining out of Chile in favor of newer varieties. The decline is heavier toward the early-season varieties than the late varieties, so we will see smaller volumes coming in at the onset of the season and heavier volumes toward the end.”