(Dec. 21) While the South African rand surpasses the U.S. dollar, some grape grower-shippers from the Rainbow Nation have decreased North American exports.

That means less product for handlers like Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif. Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sun World, said the company will not receive its usual shipment of Superior Seedless sugraone grapes, for which his company is the sole marketer. Aiton blames a weak dollar and a strong European market for this South African snub.

According to a Dec. 21 Bloomberg online report, the American dollar equaled about 6.38 rands.

While Aiton noted a cut in imports, John Musser, chief executive officer of Jonathan’s Organic, East Freetown, Mass., said his import volumes should increase this season.

“It’s slowly catching on as growers get used to dealing with the unique aspects of the U.S. market for imports,” Musser said, referring to exchange rates and USDA pre-inspections. “We’re hoping this will be a stepping stone toward larger volumes coming into the market in future years as the growers expand their acreage.”

Musser said he plans to import about 20,000 boxes. The first shipment should arrive in late January from the Western Cape, he said.

Mark Greenberg, senior vice president of procurement for Fisher-Capespan Inc., St. Laurent, Quebec, said he plans to receive 350,000 packages South African table grapes this season. He plans to import white seedless and prime seedless in late December and January, and sunred seedless and black seeded grapes in February.

Despite the weak dollar, Musser said he expects to see strong sales.

“The market in the U.S. has been able to cover that cost for relatively small volumes of the South African grape crop, but it’s definitely a premium priced product,” Musser said. “They’re the only organic grapes in the U.S. market at that time (January and February), so there’s enough demand to cover the cost.”