PITTSGROVE, NJ - Brazilian grape grower-exporter Luiz Carlos Romano of
VDS Export Ltda., Petrolina, Brazil, and Omar Abu Ghazaleh, import manager
of Pacific Trellis Fruit, based in Reedley, CA, sat in the offices of Bifulco's Four
Seasons Cold Storage Inc., in Pittsgrove, NJ, on Nov. 8 to discuss Brazil's
grape industry with The Produce News.
VDS ships grapes in sea containers to Philadelphia's Packer Avenue Terminal.
Bifulco then provides cold treatment and refrigerated warehousing for the
Mr. Romano's family entered the grape business in 1994 in Petrolina, located
in Brazil's arid San Francisco River Valley. Today the Romano family grows 500
acres of table grapes and exports for growers of an additional 750 acres of
VDS exports equal volumes of Festival and Thompson seedless white grapes,
and also exports Crimsons, mostly for the European market. For the first time
this year, VDS is exporting Black Seedless grapes, which are being harvested
from year-old vines. The growing conditions are so strong that the vines
mature very quickly, he noted.
"We try new varieties to reduce production costs," Mr. Romano said.
Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said that Brazil's grape grower-exporters are facing more
competition from late-season grapes from California, so the Brazilians "have
got to lower their cost and have something different. So, there are new
varieties they are working on."
One of these under trial is the Luisco, a white seedless grape that is harvested
late when grown in California, according to Mr. Abu Ghazaleh, who expects
that the variety will be planted more in Brazil next year.
Mr. Romano said, "It is a grower-friendly variety."
"It is market-friendly, too," Mr. Abu Ghazaleh added. "It has size and flavor"
as well as a strong shelf life.
He noted that the North American market was once primarily focused in
large-sized grapes. But flavor is now a bigger part of the demand equation.
Thus, Luisco has a bright future.
"There are a few other trials, too" for Brazilian vineyards, Mr. Abu Ghazaleh
All of the firm's grape varieties enjoy a strong domestic market.
"The economy is Brazil is running well," Mr. Romano said. The country of 200
million people has an economy that is growing by 6 percent a year.
The strong domestic market "is good for the growers," Mr. Romano said,
because it's a profitable market.
San Francisco River Valley weather is so steady that growers can cultivate
grapes to coincide with selected harvest seasons, Mr. Romano said. Petrolina's
latitude is eight degrees north of the equator. Growers there in northeastern
Brazil use the seaports of Salvador, which is 300 miles away, or the port of
Pecem, which is less than 600 miles from Petrolina. There is no refrigerated
breakbulk service available, so all Brazilian grapes are exported in sea
Cargo ships leaving Brazil have a 12-day transit time to either the United
States or the United Kingdom.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's phytosanitary rules require that Brazilian
grapes be held in cold treatment for 15 days. Ocean transit time may be
applied to that cold-treatment period, but often the treatment is done once
the fruit arrives at cold storages in the United States. This is for several
reasons, Mr. Romano explained. First, Brazil has experienced some problems
meeting USDA quarantine treatments on the water. Second, seasonal rains can
begin in Petrolina about Oct. 10, so it reduces the risk of fruit damage if
growers harvest before then and store the fruit in the United States. Finally,
fruit is often held in United States storages longer than 15 days for marketing
Brazil's grape exports have declined since a very difficult marketing year in
2008, when Brazilian grape prices were hurt by a combination of the global
economic crisis and a very late California crop, Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said. Since
that time, total exports have declined in 2010 to 3,200 containers from 5,500
containers. The difference is that the domestic market has increased grape
consumption and some grape growers have moved to other crops.
Mr. Romano said that his production costs are high in part because the
Brazilian government mandates a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in worker
salaries every year. Fifty-five percent of his production cost is labor.
Furthermore, because grapevines are manipulated to match marketing
seasons, they are always stressed and yields tend to be low. This ultimately
increases production costs, as well.