“Things went well from week 50, 2021 to week 13, 2022,” says Wibo van den Ende, Managing Director of Vita Optima, about the South African grape season that is just about over. "After that, the grapes' quality and quantity declined." He says the debacle around Russia meant more volumes than expected came to Europe. Some of it from India, which had quality, shelf life, and flavor issues.
South African grapes, in turn, faced high costs, problems finding cold storage and containers, and difficulty getting the fruit shipped in time. "At one point, seven-to-ten-day delays were the rule rather than the exception. In the short term, it doesn't look like this is going to get much easier, even for citrus."
Arnoud Keijzer and Wibo van den Ende
The season was, nevertheless, good, says Wibo, in reflection, even though it had a sting in its tail. "We had to become vigilant later in the season. But the growers need better prices because their transport and labor costs have increased, and the South African Rand wasn't in a favorable position."
After the South African grapes, Vita Optima is switching to that country's avocados, among others. Those are mainly shipped from Durban. That will still be quite challenging for the coming season, expects the director. "The floods mean transport from Durban is still problematic."
The logistical issues are why the company occasionally used conventional reefers instead of containers. Wibo does not, however, consider these as a genuine alternative to the container shortage. Conventional ships have limited availability and are not cheap either.
Grape variety-wise, Vita Optima sees there is still good demand for the traditional kinds, like Sugra 35 and Allison. As for new varieties, demand for Arra 15 and 19 is noticeably increasing. Wibo knows that grapes of the same type can have varying quality. He attributes this to the growing conditions, geographical differences, and aspects such as pre-harvest treatment and irrigation.
Last season, for example, Limpopo experienced erratic weather conditions. The grapes cultivated there thus had a different quality to those from areas with dry growing conditions like Namibia and the Northern Cape. "Sufficient irrigation and not-too-crazy weather conditions in the growing areas means more stable grapes," Wibo concludes.