As the export season draws to a close, Azhar Tambuwala of leading grower-shipper Sahyadri Farms reflects on a challenging campaign marred by longer transit times to Europe

The Indian table grape export season is entering its final stages. How has it been going? What have the volumes and quality been like this year? 

Azhar Tambuwala of Sahyadri Farms speaking at Fresh Produce India 2024

Azhar Tambuwala of Sahyadri Farms speaking at Fresh Produce India 2024

Azhar Tambuwala: Volumes have been similar to previous years, with China taking more than last year. It has not been a great quality year and with the long transit times, we see fruit having arrival and condition problems. Due to the Red Sea crisis, all shipping lines are routing round the Cape to Europe. They promise a transit time of 32-33 days, and we find vessels reaching their destination in 40-45 days, which has not been good for the fruit. Importers are unable to plan programmes and sales, as nothing is coming in as planned. Couple that with similar port issues with South African fruit, and it’s a bit of a nightmare now.

What kind of volumes have been shipped to the Europe and the UK and how does this compare with previous years?

AT: Approximately 10,000 container loads have been shipped to the EU, UK and Russia, and around 500 containers to the Far East. The Middle East has taken around another 1,000 containers, with shipments going all over the Gulf.

Volumes are not significantly higher or lower, however there’s been a problem with larger arrivals into the EU in the space of few weeks, which was unexpected due to the erratic vessel schedules. This has changed the sentiment in the market tremendously. Exporters were loading earlier to achieve targeted programmes considering a five-week sailing time, against the usual three weeks, and now fruit is taking six or seven weeks to arrive.

What is the market demand like in Europe and the UK and how do you see the rest of the campaign panning out there?

AT: The market demand has been regular and in fact our programmes with our customers have only increased. However, due to the shipping disruption I outlined, all retailers are being pushed to do promotions so that much of the excess fruit can move and the markets can stabilise.

The general demand is good with good pricing for quality fruit in the UK. However, arrival quality is the larger problem here and with less-than-average fruit trying to find homes, it’s created a dismal situation all around.

Has there been a push to move more fruit into Asia or other alternative export markets to Europe as a result of the Red Sea crisis? Is more fruit being marketed domestically in India?

AT: Yes, absolutely. Due to the EU and Russia situation, there has been an emphasis on trying to work with other closer markets. However, it will never be possible to remove dependency on the EU as all other markets are not that large. The Indian domestic market is always there and is much larger than the export markets, but it does not pay the premium prices received by growers from export markets. Our experience in selling a better-quality grape with our new varieties this year to domestic markets has shown that there is a certain discerning Indian clientele which is willing to pay top dollar for a premium product, even when the local market for traditional varieties is at a low.