Due to poor growing weather earlier in the season, Chilean grape markets will stay strong until March, importers predict.

Chilean grape supplies remain tight until March

Volumes will continue to be low for at least several more weeks, Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, import manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC, Reedley, Calif., said Feb. 15.

“All of our growers see a lot of fruit, and there will be a lot, but not until a few weeks from now,” he said.

With U.S. retailers running Chilean product on ad in February, that meant brisk movement, Abu-Ghazaleh said.

“Markets are extremely active,” he said.

Through Feb. 14, about 38 million boxes of grapes had been shipped from Chile to the U.S., down from 47 million last year, said Josh Leichter, director of the grape category in the Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group’s Newark, Del., office.

“I think ‘unprecedented’ would be right word” to describe the deal thus far, Leichter said. “There’s an incredible amount of people looking for grapes, and there is a lack of grapes out there.”

Earlier in the deal, shipments to the U.S. were down because of strong markets in Europe and Latin America, Leichter said. In mid-February, however, U.S. markets were very strong, but production issues in Chile resulting from earlier fluctuations in weather were delaying shipments, he said.

It will likely be April 1 before crimson volumes begin shipping, Abu-Ghazaleh said. With flames finishing earlier than usual — sometime in late February or early March —  there will be gaps in the Chilean red grape deal.

Green grape supplies will be better, with thompsons beginning to ship in mid-March, Abu-Ghazaleh said.

Leichter also said it’s looking like weekly volumes could return to normal the second week of March, but he cautioned that earlier reports this season of returns to normalcy have proven to be incorrect.

Because the pipeline will likely be so empty by that time that March product arrives, however, the higher volumes may not have much downward pressure on prices, Leichter said.

Prices in mid-February, meanwhile, were being held in check because of the large percentage of fruit sold in advance on contract or with February ad price lids, Leichter said.

That fruit was averaging $16-18 per box, while spot market fruit was getting $18-20, he said. That spot market price could rise by $2 before the expected larger March shipments.

Some flames were having quality and sizing issues, but for the most part, Abu-Ghazaleh said quality this season is excellent.

He said fruit was about a size smaller on average this season, adding that he expects sizes to increase for upcoming shipments.