Cooler weather and freezes in some areas of Chile have caused mixed assessments of volume by suppliers of grapes and stone fruit.

“Chile has six or seven distinct grape growing regions and has had freezes to varying degrees in three of those,” said Josh Leichter, grape category director in the Newark, Del., office of The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Leichter estimated delays of up to 14 days in early areas and about five days in growing areas further south.

“The question that is not as clear until fruit starts shipping is what will be the effect on the volume coming to the North American market.”

Assessing Chilean grape production in the north of the country, Chilean sources noted an important loss in diverse produce regions of the Aconcagua Valley, ranging from 10% to 30%.

Leichter said concern has centered on the actual losses and how the cool weather will affect the remaining harvest since the cold weather stunted growth and development of grape vines. Shipments normally arriving by Thanksgiving are now expected by late November or early December.

Leichter also added that although overall volume of grapes in Chile may be down, only 50% to 60% of the Chilean crop ships to the North American market.

“The overall volume that comes to the North American market could not be affected at all,” he said.

Potential effects

David Schiro, president of Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y., said he expects grape losses in the Aconcagua Valley to total roughly 7 million boxes as a result of the freezes.

Peter Kopke, president of William H. Kopke Jr., Lake Success, N.Y., said freezes will cause a light start of the season, with the remaining harvests dependent on weather in the coming weeks.

He added there is no observable change in demand this year, though he said supermarkets have tended to be more active than in recent years.

Kopke added that the exporter environment has evolved in recent years as costs of production have increased.

“It is a more competitive environment,” he said. “The challenge is always for them to have a profitable year. The costs in Chile have increased over the years, and so they can’t afford to live on the kind of prices that we had five years ago. They need to get a higher return.”

Leichter noted although consumption is growing by less than 5% per year, retailers are helping to move more wintertime grapes, turning up strong sales dollars.

“For Oppenheimer ourselves, we are looking at our volume up 20% versus last year,” he said, describing the addition of growers and Chile’s good track record for consistency, quality and supply.

Stone fruit

Schiro explained that the biggest change to stone fruit production this year is the replacement of some orchards with superior varieties.

“Growers are focusing on the superior varieties and eliminating several of the mediocre to fair varieties,” he said. They will no longer be shipping them because they are not successful in the North American market.”

Schiro said the result will be fewer peaches, with more new varieties including rich lady, z lady and augustprince, while red ladies and elegant ladies will have lower volume than previous years.

“We’re expecting some newer late-season varieties,” he said. “We’ll have good quality varieties until the middle of March.”

Schiro said Jac Vandenberg will have both pre-ripe and jet fresh programs as well as a very extensive program of pre-conditioned peaches and nectarines.

Evan Myers, stone fruit category manager for The Oppenheimer Group, said apricot and early season plums also may be affected this year.

“Peaches and nectarines look very good actually,” he said, adding that Oppenheimer also imports cherries and pluots (a cross between a plum and apricot that look similar to a black plum with orange-toned interior flesh and a sweet taste).

“Our overall volume is going up 25%, a little bit in each commodity,” he said, attributing the increases again to the addition of growers and higher demand from customers.

Myers said the new variety plantings reflect a tendency toward better shipping varieties.

Leichter said Oppenheimer will be looking to work closely with growers on the supply side to get the right volumes at the right time and keep fruit moving through the system. He noted working with retailers to get the proper promotions near holiday times will be critical.

“We’re working with the retailers to find that balance,” Myers agreed. “Retailers are keeping the customers happy, and making sure the growers are getting the returns they need.”