January and February are usually quieter months after the Christmas peak for dried fruits and this year is no exception.
The UK dried fruit market has been unsettled by the shortages of Californian and Turkish raisins and Greek currants. These are usually staple ingredients and for the past few years have always been readily available throughout the year.
As reported last week, Turkish sultanas continue to buck the trend with prices remaining stable despite the increase in the cost of Turkish raisins. Some pundits predict that Turkish sultana prices will increase in line with the other vine fruits but, so far, the demand has not been there to create a major rise in prices.
However, sources in Izmir report that last week the Turkish government ratified the proposal for a quantity of Turkish sultanas to be distributed to local schools. Although the exact quantity for the ‘schools programme’ is uncertain, this may account for up to 5,000 tonnes and could trigger a slight increase in prices.
Turkish No. 9 sultanas continue to be quoted on the local Izmir Bourse between USD1,700-1,750 per tonne fob Izmir, with standard No.10 sultanas at a premium of USD100-150/tonne on this figure. There remains the danger of frost damage to the vines and there is also the ongoing issue with the withdrawal from sale of the pesticide Iprodione. This is widely used throughout the world as a mould inhibitor on fresh grapes but, following a study carried out by the European Food Safety Authority, the EU has recommended that this should be withdrawn from use by March 5 2018.
It is to be hoped that the EU will permit a transitional period for the use of dried vine fruits harvested prior to the date of withdrawal and further news is expected following negotiations.
Anxiety continues with the almost complete absence of offers of Greek currants. As reported previously, currants continue to be an established ingredient for a whole range of bakery products and although many major manufacturers should have covered their requirements for Easter hot cross buns, there is likely to be a something of a scramble to find remaining stocks of currants to cover requirements through until when the new crop becomes available next September.
Southern hemisphere producers are waiting for their harvests of vine fruits to be further forward and the threat of any rain during the critical drying period to have passed. Both Australia and South Africa have therefore not released prices of their vine fruits and these are not now expected until early March.
Both South African and Australia are at present expecting good sized crops which will hopefully mean that there will be good tonnages available for export to the EU.
The continuing uncertainty in the UK over the negotiations for Brexit means that the pound remains volatile, with some authorities predicting a dramatic weakening in sterling if there is no agreement between the UK and the EU, whilst others suggest that value of sterling could increase if UK interest rates rise in line with the US.
In conclusion, there are many factors for buyers of dried fruits to consider this year and it is perhaps time for caution rather than speculation.