With the 2023 California organic grape crop on its last legs and Peru still several weeks away from volume, there is a tight supply situation for the post-Thanksgiving period. And while supplies will increase and be decent in the December/January/February time frame, there should still be a very strong organic grape market for most of the next five months.
“We are wrapping up harvest on our California organic greens this week, and our organic reds should go into the second week of December,” said John Harley of Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield, California, adding that the shipping of each color will extend about a week beyond harvest.
John Harley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Anthony Vineyards
Harley noted that the heavy rains from Hurricane Hilary that hit California in late August resulted in a significant decline in volume toward the end of summer and early fall. While some of the later maturing varieties were not hit as hard, the crop is still ending its season sooner than originally expected. Oftentimes, California shipments can go to the end of December, especially on the conventional side of the ledger. This year’s grape season is just not lasting that long.
Anthony Vineyards is in its third year of bringing in organic grapes from Peru and its volume is increasing each year. “We are not going to have crazy volume, but we will have an increase over last season,” he said. “We are expecting about 30 loads beginning at the end of this month and lasting through January into early February.”
Anthony Vineyards unloads its Peruvian organic grapes at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California, and it will sell virtually all of those grapes in the West.
He noted on Tuesday, November 14, that the California FOB market for a carton of organic table grapes was in the $34–$38 range. “When we start with the Peruvian organic grapes, we are anticipating a market price of $50-$52,” he said.
"We are not going to have crazy volume, but we will have an increase over last season." - John Harley
He reported that the ocean trip from Northern Peru (where they are sourcing from) to California takes about 10 days, with the fruit going through a mandatory cold treatment while in transit. “The product looks pretty good,” he said. “We do expect that there may be some cartons that have to be repacked, but overall, it looks like an excellent crop.”
David Posner, President, CEO and Founder of Santa Cruz, California based Awe Sum Organics, called OPN Connect from Peru on Wednesday, November 15, to give a detailed up-to-the-minute report on Awe Sum’s organic grape production. The company is the leading exporter of Peruvian organic grapes. “I came down here last week and will be here until Thanksgiving,” he said. “I am visiting each of our farms because it is very important that we pick at exactly the right time. We harvest and pack on the same day, and it is very important that we get it right.”
David Posner, President, CEO and Founder, Awe Sum Organics
Posner said the first organic green seedless grapes were picked last week (week of November 6) and are shipping to the US this week. The first red seedless varieties were being harvested as he spoke and will ship next week (week of November 20). “We will have organic greens available from our East Coast warehouse on week 49 (week of December 4) and the reds available one week later,” he added.
“I am visiting each of our farms because it is very important that we pick at exactly the right time. We harvest and pack on the same day and it is very important that we get it right.” - David Posner
Posner reported that the crazy El Nino weather that has hit South America throughout 2023 has resulted in a smaller than usual grape crop from the Northern Peru growing districts, but it has come on a bit earlier, which works well with California's earlier finishing crop. Because of that early start/early finish to the Northern Peru production, Posner is anticipating that there will be a gap between the country's Northern and Southern production. “Our Southern Peru production will be harvested sometime beginning in January, with the first arrivals in the US in February,” he said, noting that he will know more after visiting those farms later on in his current trip. “We are going to have a fair amount of fruit, but overall, there will be less volume from the North.”
He said Awe Sum should have good supplies from mid-December through March and into April, with the length and timing of the gap in early 2024 yet to be determined.
David Weinstein of Heath & Lejeune, an organic wholesaler operating in Southern California, agreed that the domestic organic grape crop is short because of the summer rains, but he added that the late varieties have performed better than expected. “It’s not as bad as everyone expected when those rains first hit ... at least for the late varieties,” he said.
David Weinstein, Director of Procurement, Heath & Lejeune
With California winding down, Heath & Lejeune is looking elsewhere to source organic grapes. Weinstein said every year a few more importers have added Peru’s organic grapes to their repertoire. He said that there is also expected to be more organic grape volume from South Africa being brought into the East Coast this fall/winter by a couple of different importers.
“It’s not as bad as everyone expected when those rains first hit." - David Weinstein
Another potential source for organic grapes could be Chile. Earlier this month, 20 US importers asked the USDA to expedite the approval process that would allow Chilean table grapes to come to the United States without being fumigated. Instead, the fruit would be subject to a different protocol. This could potentially open the door to organic grape shipments.
Weinstein said Chile does have some organic grape production, which it currently ships to Europe and other locations that do not require fumigation.
Another fruit importer who weighed in on his company’s organic grape program for this winter was Jason Laffer, Vice President of Sales for TerraFresh Organics, Mill Valley, California.
Jason Laffer, Vice President of Sales for TerraFresh Organics
He revealed on November 15 that the company had just begun packing organic grapes from Peru this week and agreed that the front end of the deal will have less volume than usual. “Our top variety that we will be importing this season is the Autumn Crisp,” Laffer said. “This variety/brand has become well known in the industry for its high crisp, juicy and sweet flavor profile which continues to bring retailers and consumers back for more.”
He added that TerraFresh will also have organic grapes from the Republic of South Africa, beginning in mid to late January, and will be offering both red and green varieties.
“The demand for grapes overall is expected to be strong this season,” he said. “California is coming up short, and the import season of grapes is also expected to have its own challenges.”