Pandemic-related logistical disruption is causing a major headache for Southern Hemisphere table grape exporters.
The low availability of containers, late changes to shipping itineraries and vessels being unable to dock due to onboard workers testing positive for Covid are resulting in significant delays to shipments, meaning that the fruit loses valuable days of postharvest life.
At the same time, shipping rates are running 50-100 per cent higher than last year.
Arturo Hoffmann of leading Peruvian grower-exporter Agrícola Don Ricardo said journey times are on average 10 days longer than normal but can be extended by as much as 25 days.
“In China, consignments are normally unloaded and dispatched from the port within two days, but this is now averaging a week, which obviously affects shelf-life,” he told Fruitnet.
Hoffmann said the problem is more acute in more distant markets, such as Southeast Asia. “We’re not talking about big volumes because these are still developing markets for us, but
we haven’t shipped anything to Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand except for limited volumes of Red Globe this season,” he said.
Instead, the company has increased shipments to China, South Korea and the US. “Fortunately, the market has been quite active and we haven’t had any problem selling the fruit.”
In spite of the challenges, Peru is on course to achieve a double-digit increase in table grape shipments in the 2021/22 season. According to Hoffmann, volumes were running 20 per cent up on the same time last year at the end of January and the season is likely to end with an increase of 12 per cent over 2020/21.
And Hoffman hopes the season will be profitable despite the sharp rise in production and shipping costs faced by growers. “In the US market, the early end to the California deal and later start in Chile has been good for Peru and we’ve seen fluid demand,” he said.
“The European market has also been relatively clear as South Africa experienced major logistical delays in December and January.”
As he points out, the fruit industry has always proved adept at being flexible and overcoming problems. “When dealing with a perishable product like fruit, the number one consideration is to find an outlet for it, so we are equipped, as a company and an industry, to react to a rapidly changing situation,” he says.
“Here at Agrícola Don Ricardo, we continue to grow our table grape programme, replanting older varieties and expanding our overall acreage by around 10 per cent every year.”