Chilean grapes

Chilean exporters are expecting another good year for the table grape category during the 2008/09 season, despite the current global economic climate and slim margins for Thompson table grapes.

Last year's record Chilean grape harvest meant a total of 107m cartons went for export to North America (51m cartons), the EU (39m cartons), Asia (10m cartons) and Latin America (6m cartons), with the industry hopeful of a similar sized, high-quality crop this year.

'We have had bad luck during the past two seasons – there was inclement rainfall in February and March, right when we did not need it,' said Manuel José Alcaíno, executive director at Santiago-based fresh fruit analysis provider Decofrut. 'So, we hope this year will be very good, although – as with all predictions – it’s still too early to be certain.'

While it may be a little premature to make a definitive forecast for Chile's overall 2008/09 table grape deal, the prospects for country's early table grape are shaping up quite favourably.

'In the northern valleys, where the first season grapes are harvested, we are expecting a 10 to 15 per cent increase in volumes this season,' revealed Isabel Quiroz, executive director at IQonsulting, a fellow Chilean fresh fruit market consulting company. 'There should be greater volumes of Thompson, Crimson and Red Globes and we believe the northern valleys will produce as much as 130,000 tonnes in total, or about 16m cartons.'

Despite the expected volume increase, Ms Quiroz remained cautious about the challenges facing Chile’s grape suppliers.

'Grape growers here, like producers everywhere, are wondering how our traditional markets are going to react to the world's now weakened economy,' she noted. 'We are also rightfully concerned about the cost structure here in Chile, where labour costs continue to grow while the value of the US dollar remain uncertain.

'Still, the recent increase in the dollar and the drop in fuel prices are going to be very, very helpful,' she added.