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Tastyfrutti notes Chilean varietal explosion

When Andreas (Andy) Economou began selling Chilean grapes in the 1970s, Thompson Seedless, Ribeirs, Cardinals and Perlettes were the grape varieties of choice.  Today, he can rattle off a dozen varieties, each with its own growers and customers.QTGTS4

Economou, who is chief operating officer of Tastyfrutti International Inc. in Philadelphia, said many of the varieties are proprietary and only grown by specific growers.  “If you aren’t working with those growers, you’re not selling that variety.”

But the longtime grape importer does not pine for those days gone by. He said shippers, importers and retailers like the exclusivity of the many different varieties and the opportunity to have something a little different. On the list of newer varieties grown in Chile that should have more volume this year are Cotton Candy, Sweet Celebration, Arra 15, Arra 29, Timco, Timpsons, Sweet Sunshine, Sable, Jubilee, Jack’s Salute and a variety developed in Chile called Inia. This list includes green, red and black varieties.

For the 2017-18 Chilean grape deal, Economou said the crop is a week later than last year and the vines are loaded with fruit. In fact, he said thinning operations are currently in place because “some of that fruit has to be dropped so we get good quality on what’s remaining. The vines just can’t carry all that fruit.”

He expects the harvest to begin by Dec. 10 with shipments coming to the United States shortly thereafter.  Economou said the late start and the increased volume will make this year quite a bit different than last, but that is no surprise to that long-time grape importer. “No two years are ever alike. It’s not that the people change; it’s that Mother Nature is different every year.”

Though Chile has a large crop and Economou expects promotable supplies throughout the year, he also expects the market price to be better than last year. “Peru really got hurt,” he said, noting that rain knocked out much of the production in the northern production area of the country and the south also got hurt.  “The Piura area (northwest Peru) lost 50 percent of its crop and the south lost 20 percent. Even though Chile has a much larger crop than last year, the market should be better.”

Because of the increased volume and later start, Economou expects imports from Chile to last a bit later into spring than might be typical. Chile has always helped fill the winter-spring gap between the end of California’s San Joaquin Valley grape deal in late November or early December, and the start of the spring deals from Mexico and California’s Coachella Valley in early May. Those complementary production sources try to avoid too much overlap, but only time and Mother Nature will determine how the scenario plays out next spring.  For the time being, Economou said colder-than-usual weather in Chile was the culprit for the crop delay.

Besides the explosion of new varieties, the Tastyfrutti executive said the newest wrinkle in grape packaging is a return of the plain bag. “Our customers do not want graphics on the bags anymore,” he said. “They are interested in plain bags and for good reason. They believe graphics confuse the consumers and don’t allow them to get a good look inside the bag.  Consequently, the customers are opening up the bags at retail and making a mess of the display.”

Economou said he is telling his Chilean packers that they can only put a small logo above the zipper. The bag itself, which is most often a stand-up pouch, can have necessary information such as “Product of Chile,” a PLU code and a food-safety certification logo, but they do not want graphics on the bag itself. He believes the cleaner look is better for the consumer as it allows for the grapes to sell themselves without confusing brand names. The concept isn’t new as graphics on bags have gone in and out of style over the years, but it is new for this year and allowed Economou to say, “Every year is different and I learn something new every year!”

Tastyfrutti also handles stone fruit from Chile and will have a full assortment of peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums. The peaches and apricots were expected to get started in November with the nectarine and plum start dates in mid-December.  He noted that stone fruits have a winter following and it is of value to have these items throughout the year, but they are considered summer fruit and frankly demand is light in the winter months.  

Because of fumigation requirements, Chile does not send any organic grapes to the U.S. market and its offerings of organic stone fruit are few and far between.