The start of the traditional British Easter was always heralded by the arrival of the Hot Cross bun in bakeries and retail outlets.
This simple product has exploded in popularity over recent years, with retailers introducing any number of varieties, sizes and packs.
This has been good news for the UK dried fruit industry as demand now begins much earlier, once Christmas has ended and continues until the end of April.
Traditional recipes for Hot Cross buns contained a high percentage of currants, as well as raisins and sultanas. This gave the product a special fruity taste. Recently however, the high cost of dried vine fruits and the lack of availability of currants has meant that other ingredients need to be found and these range from apple pieces to cranberries, chocolate pieces and salted caramel.
This may have helped introduce younger consumers and extend the category, but the decline in the availability of currants is a real concern for the UK dried fruit industry.
Greece has for centuries been the principal supplier of currants, which come from a small black grape, unlike the white grape used for sultanas and raisins. Cultivation has centred around the Peloponnese area of Greece with some smaller quantities sourced from the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia. The available tonnage for export has reduced from crops of over 30,000-40,000 tonnes to this year’s disappointing figure of between 12,000-14,000 tonnes.
The number of producers has gradually dwindled and despite record high prices there seems to be little local or national incentive to help increase the tonnage and to market the product in the same way as other local products such as olives and cheese.
The UK has many loyal customers for currants, but the coming year may see a fall in demand as customers, frustrated with the lack of availability, change their recipes and look for alternative ingredients.
The good news is that, to date, weather conditions for the new crop of Greek currants are reported to be good and a better crop is anticipated. Meanwhile, offers are limited and prices high at between EUR2,950-3,150 per tonne (USD3,314-3,538/tonne) fob Piraeus for provincial quality.
Turkish dried fruit prices remain stable, despite the uncertainty following this week’s local government elections and the leading AK party’s loss of overall control in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. This has largely been attributed to dissatisfaction with the recent performance of the Turkish economy and the big swings in the value of the Turkish lira.
Sultana prices remain unchanged at between USD2,300-2,350/tonne fob Izmir for special cleaned standard number nines, with Turkish raisins available at very similar price levels.
News from South Africa is that sales of vine fruits have been steady, with new season Choice Thompson seedless raisins quoted between USD2,800-2,900/tonne cif UK. This is a competitive price and should result in strong sales to both Europe and the US. The picture is less clear for golden raisins, which are reported to be in shorter supply this year. Prices range between USD3,300-3,400/tonne cif UK for choice mediums, with a significant premium for bold or larger sized fruit.
The Australian dried vine fruit harvest has been later this year due to the very hot weather.
It is now drawing to a close and first shipments of the famous Five Crown variety will be made this month. The overall volume is expected to be a little less than expected at between 17,000-18,000 tonnes.