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"The grape season up to now has actually been quite good," Mark Greenberg said March 13.

Mr. Greenberg is the chief operating officer and senior vice president of procurement for Fisher Capespan in the firm's Montreal office. He told The Produce News, "The fruit from Chile has been pretty good quality and condition, and the arrival volumes of white and red seedless grapes have been good." The volume has been of a manageable size, and the market has comfortably absorbed the fruit. But the volume has also been high enough to support retail chain promotions. "There was not such a great volume to send prices down to the point it was no longer profitable for growers."

Ominously, he added, "Until now, that has been the case."

Mr. Greenberg explained, "Last week, the market turned around on the back of very, very strong arrivals of white seedless on the East [Coast] and West [Coast]. That really has brought white seedless prices down. In the next couple of weeks, it will be difficult to move them at attractive prices to the grower."

He noted that red grapes "are not in short supply," but whites, particularly Thompson seedless, have a disproportionate share of large volume.

"It seems that the huge volume all of a sudden appeared in the last three weeks." In the first week of March, East Coast grape importers received 1.4 million boxes of grapes. In the second week of March, the volume rose to 1.8 million. The East Coast in the third week of March was to receive 1.7 million boxes. "That is an awful lot of fruit for the market to absorb."

Part of the volume surge could be motivated by the change of the U.S. grape marketing order, which now has an earlier, April 10, beginning date. After April 10, imported grapes must meet minimum standards for quality and condition, Mr. Greenberg said. Exporters are motivated to be in the market before April 10, especially with white grapes. "Reds have a much better chance of clearing marketing-order obstacles. Whites show defects more clearly than reds do. It will be complicated in the end of, what to now, has been a really good season."

Mr. Greenberg predicted that a significant volume of Chilean white seedless grapes will be "put away into storage. They will postpone shipping until after the marketing order goes into effect." That fruit would arrive in the last week of April or the first week of May "before Mexico and California come in" with large volumes.

Mr. Greenberg expects a large Chilean Crimson seedless volume over the next three weeks. "That has had a good, solid season until last week."

Chile's Royal Gala apple deal has begun, but at a lower volume than a year ago. "There are still a lot of West Coast Royal Galas in storage, so the Chilean apples have not really started to move this year." Mr. Greenberg added, "We expect the chains will switch over to the Chile fruit in April. The eating quality is simply much better than the cold-storage fruit on the West Coast."

Chilean pear shipping is also underway, according to Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA. On March 13, Mr. Kragie indicated that the Chilean Bartlett deal began in early February. The Asian Pear deal started on March 13 and Bosc were to begin about April 3. Aggressive Argentine pear pricing and a California storage pear presence hurt early Chilean pear prices, Mr. Kragie said. By mid-March, the California pear presence was about gone. Western Marketing's own California pear holdings cleaned up in the first week of March, and "now there is nothing in a big way that we know of."

Mr. Kragie said that the first loads of Chilean kiwifruit are expected to arrive in U.S. ports in the first few days of April. "I think they have a 20 percent increase in the crop over last year. The outside markets are flooded. Europe is flooded with Italian kiwi. There is pressure to come here, and we expect heavy volume early to take advantage of what good market there is now. That might not last long."