(Nov. 1) Supplies of late-season California grapes are slowing movement of Brazilian grapes, but importers say a later start in Chile’s northern growing region should help boost demand during Brazil’s short season.

The first shipments of Brazilian grapes arrived in mid-October, and they appeared in East Coast stores at the end of the month after a 15-day cold treatment as mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jim DeMalo, a principal for U.S. Produce Exchange Inc., Philadelphia, said the amount of California fruit and the high price requested by Brazilian exporters were slowing demand.

“They like to sell in the $32-35 range (for an 18-pound lug), and realistically, today I think we can sell them in the $24-26 range,” DeMalo said. “They’re holding back a little bit on their supply until the market improves.”

DeMalo said Brazil’s grape crop is new, but increased plantings will raise its prominence as a supplier when California’s season nears an end and before Chile starts shipping.

The season lasts from late October to December. Volumes have grown from 329 metric tons in 2000 to more than 1,300 metric tons in 2004, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

TO EUROPE

Tom Leonardi, vice president of sales and marketing for Fresh Taste Produce USA & Associates Inc., Philadelphia, said those volumes would be higher, but most of the grapes go to Europe.

New plantings will boost the volumes coming to the U.S., Leonardi said, giving Brazil more market share during Thanksgiving.

“It’s always been a program geared for the European demand,” he said. “The additional acreage will supply some additional markets, particularly on the East Coast. “But we’re aware of the good supply of the California grapes, so we’re not bringing in extreme volumes because the demand is going to be limited.”

GOING ORGANIC

While most shippers will switch to Chilean grapes in December, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Farmers Fruit Express Inc.’s chief executive officer and owner David Posner said he’ll have organic Brazilian grapes from mid-November to mid-December, and again from mid- to late April through early June. The first season will focus on the festival variety and the spring volumes will include festivals, crimsons, thompsons and black seedless.

Posner, who said he is the only organic Brazilian grape supplier in the U.S., said organic grapes are gaining in popularity at grocery stores. He has sold Brazilian grapes for five years.

DeMalo said there will be a slight overlap with Chilean grapes, but that will be lessened because of a freeze in the northern growing region of Copiapo. Chile’s first shipments should arrive in mid-December, he said.

Last year, 18-pound boxes of the Brazilian grapes brought $30-40 f.o.b.s, because California was done for the season by the time Brazil’s production started.