Europe has been short on grapes over the past week because of the congestion in the port of Rotterdam causing 7 to 10 days of delays and week 11’s volumes are coming into an empty market.
“There are gaps between grape arrivals which definitely helps to move the product quicker. Prices until sales week 11 look very stable and if the arrivals of the vessels continue to be delayed, then it might support the market price. Currently, prices are better than last year, while still below the level of 2020 but trending close to it,” notes Francois Rossouw, managing director of Mooigezicht Estates in the Hex River Valley.
He is positive about late red seedless production in the Hex River Valley, especially reliable Crimson, but he cautions that there is a lot of problem fruit in the market which could negatively affect price movement.
Because of the conflict in Ukraine, large volumes of grapes meant for Russia from week 9 onwards had to be sent to Europe. At the same time, there are significantly reduced grape volumes from India in Europe because of huge increases in shipping rates, he says.
The market could drastically change in week 11 or week 12 with the arrival of six vessels, which are in front of the ports, waiting to be cleared. In expectation of a simultaneous arrival, which would put pressure on particularly red and black grape prices, supermarket promotions are expected.
“The expectation is that the white grape market will remain stable, but the challenge will come with the arrivals of so much red and black on the market. Market analysts anticipate that spot prices could fall next week.”
He also points out that further delays in the offloading of these vessels, will serve to strengthen the market.
“As a result of better weather with less time lost due to wind over the past two weeks coupled with the cooperation between Fruit South Africa and all of its stakeholders in negotiations with the port authorities, we have seen a big improvement in the loading of vessels in Cape Town,” he says. “However, there are still backlogs and container shortages remain a problem.”
Exceeding their own expectations with mixed punnets
The Hex River Valley is ideal for specialized mixed punnet packing because of the length of the season: the grape harvest starts in week 51, and packing continues until week 16.
Labour shortages and high labour costs in Europe and the UK have led to a trend of packing mixed punnets at source, Francois explains.
“In 2019 we packed 200,000 cartons of mixed punnets and we just never realised we could go further than that and suddenly last week we were at over 350,000 punnets. I don’t know if that’s been done before in South Africa, and we’re still packing mixed punnets with our last Sundance, Sweet Globe and Autumn Crisp.”
He expects they’ll be ending the season on 370,000 cartons of mixed punnets. Mooigezicht Estates have packed 81% of their grape crop thus far.
Their mixed punnets go to the USA, Canada, Europe, Ireland and the UK, while they haven’t sent any to the Far East this year. It’s unusual, he remarks, that around a quarter of their crop has thus far been packed into mixed punnets.
Packing mixed punnets at same rate as single colour punnets
Ahead of the season they carefully planned the composition of the mixed punnets to be packed at every farm, sometimes packing grapes across two farms. “We still have farms that aren’t mixing because their cultivar composition doesn’t yet allow it, but in future they’ll add to our volumes of mixed. I think 400,000 cartons of mixed punnets next season is not impossible.”
“We have been really motivated to mix because of the premium on mixed punnets. On our first payments we’ve seen a premium of 25% on mixed punnets. Mixing grapes requires effort, but we’ve become so adept at doing it as a result of training that we’re now packing mixed punnets at the same speed that we pack single variety punnets.”
Right: cardboard punnets for the UK
Mooigezicht’s mixed punnets are packed at 11 packhouses with each between 36 and 40 pack stations (and a twelfth on standby when needed), which improves quality control on packing niche lines.
“We are currently packing paper punnets for the UK and the Indian Ocean Islands (6x800g). Because of the size of these punnets there is easily enough space for the grapes and very little risk of compression. We are also starting with packing trials for the European market with the paper punnets.”
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