HERMOSILLO, Mexico – Sonoran grape growers' forecast for the 2012 season, released April 27, shows projected total export volume of more than 16.3 million cartons. The export projection is larger than that of the past three years, although not as high as some expected after touring three Hermosillo-area grape growing operations April 26. Typically, about 80% of Sonoran product ships to the U.S. and Canada. Plenty of perlettes should fill the supply pipeline by mid-May, with volume projections for the season reaching 2.4 million boxes. That compares to last year’s actual total of 1.9 million boxes. Flames should also be plentiful, as 8.3 million boxes are expected this season, 1 million more than 2011 actual figures. Sugraones also look to be up, from 3.4 million cartons to 3.8 million. Red globes and other varieties should also be up slightly, according to the forecast, with red globes up to 825,000 boxes, compared to 821,000 last year; and others up to 1 million cartons, up from 929,000 in 2011. If recent history is any indication, however, Sonoran grape exports could reach the 17 million to 18 million box range. Although last year’s projection of 14.8 million boxes was pretty accurate (Sonora grape officials put 2011 actual volume at 14.37 million boxes), 2009 and 2010 crop estimates ended up being much lower than actual numbers. In 2009, the estimate was for 10.8 million boxes but the actual number was 13 million; in 2012, the estimate was for 15 million cases, but it was actually 16.7 million. High volume and high-end quality Sonoran grapes, coupled with a later-than-usual Memorial Day, should translate into loads of retail promotional opportunities, sources say. After an estimated 150 growers, shippers, marketers and importers toured three grape operations, many said they expected an 18 million box crop. The crop also looks to be on time, or possibly even a bit early. Timing of this year’s Sonoran grape deal may seem early because “the last couple of years have been later than usual,” said Jim Pandol, president of Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Associates Marketing, but he expects this year’s crop to be actually normal for the deal. “The good news is the quality seems to be there,” he said. “More good news is that Memorial Day comes late this year, so Hermosillo volume will be going full bore by then and there should be plenty of product for retail promotions.” In fact, Pandol said, the smartest involved in the Sonoran deal are already coordinating solid retail promotional efforts for the week before Memorial Day and blockbuster deals for the week of Memorial Day, which is May 28. That date is actually a couple of days earlier than it has been the past two years but is the latest Memorial Day will be until 2016, when it falls on May 30. The trickiest part for Sonoran growers, however, could be finding their way to maximize profits since volumes for their six-week window will meet some competition from Coachella, Calif., product, which could also see high volumes as well as a normal or slightly earlier-than-normal start to its deal. Another part of the profit equation centers on how receptive retailers and consumers will be to incoming product after a disappointing denouement to the Chilean deal. “Chile’s late-season crop has had some quality problems and has been expensive,” Pandol said. Perlettes, the first Sonoran grape variety to come into the market, have started shipping from May 4-9 during the past three seasons but many believe this year’s first shipments will come before the end of April. Flames, typically starting the second week of May and hitting promotable volume around May 20, are followed by sugraones, red globes and other varieties (mainly black seedless). Like grape volume, attendance at this year’s summit looks to easily eclipse that of recent years. Monica Avalos, administrative manager for AALPUM, said April 25 that she expects more than 200 on hand for this year’s summit, compared to 195 last year, which was the attendance record for the event, Avalos said.