Earlier this year we took a sat down (virtually of course) with the team at FreshPlaza to talk all things grapes. Here is a look at that Q&A all about the upcoming Peruvian grape season.
FP: When is the Peruvian grape harvest expected to start for Vanguard Peru?
VG: Vanguard Peru’s ranches are situated in the Villacuri/Ica region which traditionally starts harvest in November. We are very different than the majority of the grower/packers in the Ica region as 100% of our production is with patented seedless grape varieties that have been carefully selected and pruned to arrive in the market from the middle of December through the middle of April. We are expecting to begin harvesting our earliest green seedless blocks between the second and third weeks of November and our latest green blocks in the last weeks of March. Our red varieties are expected to begin one to two weeks after our first greens and finish two to three weeks before our last greens. Essentially, we cover the entire late December through April market window with an exciting array of all new high-quality great-eating varieties. Our production will tie in perfectly with the finish of the crop in northern Peru and go all the way through to the start of the Mexican crop.
FP: How have growing circumstances been so far this season?
VG: Growing conditions have been ideal to-date with daytime temperatures averaging 26C/80F and evening temperatures averaging 13/56F. The vines are healthy with excellent bud break. All of our roughly 1,000 hectares of grapes, with the exception of a newly planted 50 hectare block and a first-year 40 hectare block, will be in full production.
FP: Could you provide an outlook for the season in terms of production numbers and yield?
VG: The total Peru crop is currently forecasted to be between 53-55 million cartons, of which Red Globes is still the largest single variety produced with an expected 18 million cartons for the coming season. Green and red seedless varieties are approximately equal with 16 and 17 million respectively. Black seedless should account for about 2.5 million boxes. Most important is the development of new varieties that accounted for only 38% of the total Peruvian grape crop this past season (2019/20). In the coming season, Vanguard Peru is expected to be the largest grower/packer/exporter of patented seedless grape varieties in Peru and specifically in the Ica region. Our current production estimates are for 3.2 million cartons (8.2kg equivalent) of which we will have 1.5 million each of green and red seedless and 200k of black seedless.
FP: Any new varieties that will hit the market?
VG: Our overall profile is geared toward 100% new varieties that have been proven to be winners in terms of appearance, eating quality, and driving global consumer demand. Our portfolio consists of green seedless (Ivory-Sheegene 21, Sweet Globe™ , Sugar Crisp™, and AUTUMNCRISP®), red seedless (Icon Firestar ™, Sweet Celebration ™ , Jack’s Salute ™, and Allison®), and black seedless (MIDNIGHTBEAUTY®, Sweet Favors™ , and ADORA ®). We have also added a new niche red seedless variety to our line-up, Candy Snaps ™. The selection of these varieties and their timing will allow us to provide a steady flow of green seedless and red seedless throughout the season. Our black seedless varieties will be targeted for early and late season market arrivals.
FP: What markets will Vanguard’s grapes be shipped to?
VG: Vanguard’s history has been “global” and our market focus will continue to be so going forward. While we expect a signification portion of our production to go to the United States and Canada, we also have significant programs scheduled into Asia (Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand), Mexico, and Latin America. We will also begin a small program into Europe this year as a result of rapidly growing demand for our new varieties.
FP: In view of the global pandemic, do you foresee challenges on the picking, packing or export side?
VG: As you can imagine the current pandemic has been the most significant challenge that we have been facing over the past six months, both as an industry as well as a company. Vanguard Peru instituted strict safety regulations across all operations at the beginning of March 2020. These will continue to be in place for the upcoming season. We have been working very closely with the Peruvian authorities to meet or exceed all protocols to protect our work force and trading partners. Additionally, we have a very supportive grower community in Ica that is working closely together to maintain Peru as a socially responsible driver when it comes to the environment, water, and community health. Our industry overall, whether it is growers, packers, support services, logistics providers, or other supply chain entities are all committed to actively confronting and addressing the challenges.
The entire grower community is facing labor shortages, by far one of the more important issues that can most affect harvesting and packing. As has happened throughout all the growing regions in Peru, a good portion of the labor has moved back to their hometowns and villages in the mountains out of concern for Covid-19. This has resulted in a lack of labor at critical times and to address this, growers have had to increase the labor pay rate to attract and retain sufficient labor. Pruning costs alone have increased an estimated 40% over the past two months. Not all growers have been able to easily weather this impact with the net result being a potential upcoming season delay in their harvest.
The other significant challenge has been packing capacity that will affect packers with limited packing house space. New requirements with spacing and PPE will create packing hardships for many growers. Fortunately for Vanguard Peru, our state-of-the-art packing house has sufficient space and was purposely built for planned expansion, which is allowing us to rapidly increase, almost double, our packing area for this coming season to accommodate the new requirements.
FP: Anything else you would like to add?
VG: As with any business, the success of the coming season will depend on mother nature, people, markets, and other external challenges. We keep our fingers crossed for the first one, but it is the people that work within Vanguard Peru that form the heart and soul of our business and ultimately define our success. We have an exceptionally professional team of people throughout our entire organization, both in and outside of Peru. They have all been working in very unusual times. They are part of the “food industry” and part of a complex structure providing nourishment to the world, and as such, I would add them to the essential worker category and want to recognize them for their passion and efforts – kudos and compliments to all!