Weather challenges Mexican grape growers’ schedulesWeather challenges Mexican grape growers’ schedulesA cool January and February and erratic weather in March with unusual highs and lows could delay the start of the 2013 Mexican grape deal by about a week.

“Weather is the only challenge, as it has been in the past,” Dennis Christou, vice president marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., said in late March.

Christou predicts volume will be around 16 million to 17 million boxes, slightly lighter than last year.

“In May, pricing and demand will be good,” he predicted.

“In June, retailers will have more volume to promote.”

Despite the later start, Tom Wilson, grape sales manager for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos., expects to be on track for good quality and volume.

“We expect enough green seedless volumes for Memorial Day promotions, which takes place earlier than usual this year,” Wilson said.

“Red and black seedless will also be available but in smaller volume to allow a full display of seedless varieties,”  he said.

Peak volume for the spring season should load the last week of May and the first two weeks of June, Wilson said in late March.

The market for green grapes should be strong due to the lack of quality grapes from Chile, said Rudy Heras, category lead at Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International.

Sun World expects a 15% increase in available volume this year, Heras said.

By late March, the 2013 crop was looking better than last year in terms of the number and quality of bunches per plant, said Uldarico Durazo, Sun World’s licensing manager, Mexico.

“Red grapes will depend upon the volume and quality of late crimsons from Chile,” Heras said, “and the black grape market should be strong.”

Pricing is looking strong for greens in the early season, he said, and about the same price level as last year for reds.

Marc Serpa, director of domestic grapes for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, anticipates the market for Mexican grapes will be strong right out of the gate.

“In fact, we expect demand to exceed supply for the last two weeks in May, due to a likely early wrapup of the Chilean season,” said Serpa, who works with growers in Pesqueira, La Costa and Caborca.

“We anticipate that Mexican grapes will be of high quality, good brix and uniform size,” he said.

David Espinoza, president of new Charlotte, N.C.-based International Fruit Co., the exclusive licensee for Chiquita brand fruit, expects production areas to remain about the same as last year, with around 28,000 acres between Hermosillo and Caborca.

Acreage in the newer, further south area of Guaymas also remains constant, he said.

John Pandol, director of special products for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros., predicts the first 10% of the crop may be up to a week late. The midseason also may be two or three days late, but 80% of the crop should be unaffected by weather.

With the roller-coaster weather, getting a read on crop volume and trying to time it right with promotions becomes a challenge, said Josh Leichter, general manager of Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC.

There was an upside to Mexico’s cool winter weather, however. Plenty of chill hours between December and February bode well for the health of the vines, which need a dormant period, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing at Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Farms.

Supply was tight all through last year’s season, Havel said, and the market was good until the last 10 days of the season, when unexpected volume brought the season too close to the start of the California season.

“This year should be more of a normal crop,” he said, “with good promotable volume, especially in the month of June.”