Mexican grapes winding down

From Fresh Fruit Portal | 25 July 2023

Overview of grapes from Mexico in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on July 24, 2023. 

A wild Mexican table grape shipping season will mostly end in late July, in the general consensus of key industry players. The industry expects its final Mexican harvest volume figure will be 24.5 million boxes, according to Michael Dupuis of Divine Flavor LLC.

After a high-priced early Jalisco deal, Mexico’s traditional Sonoran production was delayed and otherwise set back by unseasonably chilly temperatures. As Sonoran harvest exploded in July, table grapes suddenly filled Nogales grape cold storages and movement was difficult.

On July 21, John Pandol of Pandol Bros., Delano, CA, tells “I would speculate three million boxes of grapes were in Nogales in week 29 – the week of July 15. That is 15% of the total crop still to be shipped.   When the frequency of outbound trucks drops, loading crews mostly sit around and the power bill stays constant, and these cold storages start asking the marketers: ‘When are you going to move the last of these grapes?’”

The Mexican grape industry position is not so dire in the view of receiver Tom Kovacevich III, president of T.M. Kovacevich, Inc., a leader on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.  Kovacevich on July 21 says, “The large part of the Mexican crop is behind us. There is not that much left.” He acknowledges the season’s challenges and notes that a couple growers still have substantial volumes stored in Nogales. But he believes Mexican supplies will mostly shake out in the week of July 24. “A lot will have flushed through the system,” by the end of July and August should bring good marketing conditions for California grape shippers. 

grape volumes by history 5

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

From his office in Nogales, Michael DuPuis, Divine Flavor’s quality assurance and public relations coordinator, tells that this Mexican grape deal was the latest ever. Initial industry estimates were that only Sonora’s southern growing districts would be late, but ongoing cool weather moved that situation to include all Sonoran vineyards, including the northernmost district, Caborca. Divine Flavor’s Cotton Candy harvest in Caborca was only 50% complete as of July 17. But DuPuis expects Divine Flavor to finish Caborca harvest by July 26. With this, Divine Flavor will also finish its Mexican harvest and be the last Mexican grape grower to harvest in 2023. 

Freshly harvested, highly demanded premium varieties put the company “in a sweet spot” as the Mexican deal ends. “It’s still a good market,” DuPuis indicates on July 21. Good varieties and high quality maintain high prices, he said. “If you grow great fruit, it will sell, and your customers will come back.”

He notes that early this spring in Jalisco, Divine Flavor flourished with its specialty grape varieties, such as Autumn Crisp and Cotton Candy. As the deal wound down, cool weather in Sonora delayed the crop, which had to wait for heat to reduce fruit acidity and size. 

A warmer June brought top-notch fruit and demand suddenly was greater than what Divine Flavor could ship. Sweet Celebration, Sable Seedless, Timpson were among the firm’s specialty varieties that drew great demand.  

Pandol says the challenge for Mexican fresh grapes is not total crop volume but is increasingly – and certainly true this year – a stacking of crop harvest into mid-June and July. Sonora’s halfway point for grape harvest volume was once June 4. Now the deal’s halfway point is June 15.  This is driven in part because Mexican growers strategically planted their new varieties to be harvested in mid-June to meet strong markets. That target has been met, but now suffers because a good plan went awry with a very narrow harvest peak from many growers.

When Pandol met July 13 at Monterey’s Organic Produce Summit, he said Nogales grape warehouses were still full of product, waiting to be shipped. That week on some nights, arriving grape trailers were held in Nogales warehouse cold storage parking lots because there was no cooler space. Pandol explains there is not an official record of shipping dates from storages, only for border crossings. So, knowing real shipping dates “is a real blind spot” in knowing actual grape movement. Pandol says Nogales cold storage operators in recent times have been building one million square feet of cold warehousing every three years to accommodate increased Mexican grape production.

Late this July, Pandol hears retail customers asking for fresh-picked California fruit, so some guidance was necessary not to overlook Mexican fruit.

Kovacevich, who first displayed Cotton Candy in Philly a dozen years ago, says new grape varieties are very important to the trade, while many of the old varieties produced in July in California slow grape movement. California’s Flames are not bringing the high prices of the past. The industry dynamic brings “a real resistance to the old varieties while Sweet Celebration and other fun varieties from Mexico are preferred over California Flames. It’s tough to compete with Mexico’s Sweet Celebration.”

High retail pricing set back grape movement this July. Kovacevich notes those prices started high with Jalisco’s early high demand for specialty varieties. Although Sonoran production filled the supply pipeline, and FOB prices fell to the $1.00 to $1.50 per pound range, many grapes continued to retail at around $2.99. “I don’t think $2.99 is aggressive enough to move traditional varieties in volume,” Kovacevich notes.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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