The formation of a global table grape industry association, closely modelled on the World Citrus Organisation, is front of mind for Gerd Burmester who led the first panel discussion at the International Table Grape Symposium.

During a panel discussion entitled 'Table Grape World Exports: A Great or Grape Crisis?' he told delegates why he considers cooperation among table grape companies to be key, the way those on the technical and scientific side have always done.

“Cooperation in commercial areas is very difficult because we deal with customers we can take from each other,” he said. "We commercials are more closed. We tend not to share when we should be sharing more information in order to improve markets.”

Gerd Burmester, director at Vecs, Peru, regards the World Citrus Organisation as a model for something similar for the global table grape industry (photo: Bradley Urion)

The four panellists - Gill Ambler of Freshtec Australia, Charl Dubois of Capespan South Africa, John Pandol of Pandol Bros in the USA, Rafael Rodrigues of UvaNova in Chile and Burmester of Vecs in Peru - sketched a picture of their domestic industries.

Rising input costs cut across all countries; some have water issues (Australia and South Africa) while others (despite barely any rainfall) have not (Peru).

The theme of varieties and the lightning obsolescence of some came up when panellists described constraints. It was discussed in more depth at the second panel discussion, which FreshPlaza will cover.

"This year is good for you" Burmester tells SA industry
In the spirit of frankness, Burmester shared that he was not particularly proud of Peru’s position at the foremost grape exporter in the world. “I would be proud, if we were really competitive and efficient to face the years coming with difficult marketing conditions especially.”

He also confided that Peru would probably have a 40% drop in table grapes this year, despite an early high volumes, and lower than 65 million cartons (8.2kg equivalent).

Heavy rains and flooded vineyards in Piura, followed by temperatures four to five degrees warmer than normal, are the reasons for the drop in Peru’s table grape crop.

“Weather changes are going to happen, always. We have to be prepared – and we’re not.”

He continued: "The harvest from Piura was early, so the volumes you see in statistics from Piura from the north of Peru are higher than last year, but the drop is coming now, right when South Africa is coming out. This year is good for you. That happens year after year: good for me, good for you. We should not get happy. But it's good for you.”

"Very ridiculous high prices" started to be paid for early Peruvian grapes, he told the audience, which generated “market problems”.

"Because if you have any fruit with high prices arrive in the market, the consumer is not going to buy it, they have many other fruits, or other products. If grapes are too expensive, consumption will be down, rotation will be slow, promotions are not going to happen. That’s what we’re going to find right now with the Ica production arriving to the US.”

Long term strategies ought not to be thrown over for short term benefits, he argued.

From left: John Pandol, Charl Dubois, Rafael Rodriguez, Gerd Burmester and Gill Ambler (photos: Bradley Urion)

Burmester conceded that packaging was going to change and that getting rid of plastic like clamshells would be hard.

John Pandol said packaging and issues of obsolescence were among those keeping them up at night at Pandol Bros in California.

Pandol added: “We have a big trade issue with Canada coming up because they have a whole series of green packaging laws coming up in 2025. Essentially the US fresh produce will be shut out from Canada.”

The packaging used in automated warehousing could also throw up issues if it’s not vetted by the industry before decisions are made.

“Giving the highest priority to people, is the wisest thing you can do”
“In January," Burmester told the audience, "we found out it only takes blocking eight metres of highway with burning tyres to stop our country. It happened three times this year.”

South Africa had a similar taste of real anarchy in July 2021.

He continued: “Sixty percent of our cost is labour. We need people to be happy. We need to listen to them and hear what their needs are. We have to realise in Peru that giving priority to people, is the wisest thing you can do.”