Published on November 7, 2023 in Fresh Plaza

Many moving parts to a promising start to South African grapes

ARRA Varieties was recently featured in Fresh Plaza magazine. Click here to view the original article.

Markets in Europe are looking very positive but the main thing, notes Danny Pienaar, Schoonbee Landgoed sales and marketing specialist, will be to keep up the sales tempo after a number of containers have arrived.

Schoonbee has a handful of containers with Early Sweet™ on the way to Europe. Large-scale grape packing in their Wildebeest packhouse, where a thousand people work, really only gets going from this week.

“The main reason for the outlook in Europe is the big losses in Californian vineyards due to Hurricane Hillary with big losses, and therefore the US opened earlier for Peruvian imports. The USA is Peru’s preferred market – although they’re still loading for Europe, make no mistake – but Spain, Italy and Greece also ended earlier due to extreme weather. Therefore Europe is relatively empty with some good price offers for South Africa.”

It almost feels, he remarks, like a normal market of ten years ago. “But there are many moving parts and it could change overnight. We don’t know what forex will do. At least freight rates have come down slightly. All in all, it could be a very good year for South Africa.”

Danny Pienaar, sales and marketing specialist, and Gert Upton, senior manager of marketing and sales at Schoonbee Landgoed

Being earliest is not the be-all-and-end-all

Their Kameelkop farm is as early as Namibia, but being earliest is not the end-all and be-all of their strategy.

Ten days ago they could have gone into their vineyards and found the pallets to get them to Europe first, but they don’t take the approach of loading first and then hoping for the best, he observes. The fixed costs of packing and running a large grape packhouse at full gear need to be offset by the available crop.

Danny’s a bit uneasy about the high prices on Europe’s trading market at the moment, he says. Stratospheric wholesale prices at the start of Southern Africa’s season are not necessarily what they want.

Their strategy is not a quick sortie with early cultivars, but a three month-plus campaign that take in over 50 countries and all colours along the way.

“We pack grapes right through to February so we take the long view. At extremely high price levels the market can come to a standstill when a number of containers have arrived – it doesn’t help when grapes are too expensive. Consumers can’t afford it. Much better to keep the momentum so that you get through your volumes. We much prefer a stable price throughout the season to sky high initial prices.”

Last imported grapes move slowly on South African shelves

On the domestic market imported grapes are still available at prices which consumers resist.

“At the start of last week it was R500 [25 euros] for a carton of grapes. It doesn’t make sense. Proper volumes only start moving from around R200 [10.2 euros] a carton so that retailers can sell it at R30 [1.5 euro] a punnet. Prices higher than that doesn’t make sense for consumers, there are still imported grapes sold at some retailers for R70 or R80 [4 euros] a punnet and they’re not moving.”

On the topic of punnets, he observes that prices have gone up quite aggressively and it’s going to become a hefty expenditure for packhouses not ordering high volumes. Last season power cuts caused a shortage; they prepared very pro-actively to avoid last season’s shortages.

Schoonbee also packs grapes in heat seal punnets which save on plastic, but are more expensive and grapes don’t necessarily travel well in them, he says.

Schoonbee has made their export quality available on their online shop for South African customers to enjoy exceptional quality at local prices.

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