The UK heatwave has inevitably reduced retail demand for dried fruits, as although dried fruit sales are no longer seasonal, peaks in demand continue around the Christmas and Easter holiday periods.
Major buyers are however, busy looking at their requirements for the coming year and as Turkey is still the principal supplier of dried vine fruits, July is a critical month before the harvest begins in August.
The weather throughout the Mediterranean is now hot and dry, which is good news for the vines, but follows a period of wind and hail, which is reported to have reduced the tonnage for this year`s new crop in Turkey.
Early reports have indicated that new crop prices of Turkish sultanas will rise from present levels, but raisin prices are likely to reduce if as predicted farmers decide to dry larger quantities of their fruit as raisins this year.
Specially cleaned number nine sultanas have increased in price to USD1,850-1,900 per tonne fob Izmir for shipments through until December, but concern continues over the overall tonnage of the new crop.
Total Turkish exports have reached around 236,000 tonnes up until the end of June. This is a high figure and reflects steady demand from the principal customers. Exports of raisins and sultanas to the UK for the same period have reached 59,093 tonnes; about 25% of the total crop. The UK is therefore the largest export customer for Turkey and the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the continuing duty-free status that Turkey has long enjoyed is of paramount importance to both the Turkish and UK dried fruit industries.
The Turkish harvest is due to begin in the middle of August and as ever, the most critical period will be when most of the fresh grapes have been cut and are drying in the open. Any rain during this time can be catastrophic, bringing problems of mould and darkened fruit. First new season arrivals into the UK should be at the end of August or during the first week in September, which could be up to two weeks earlier than usual and will hopefully relieve the pressure on the shortage of raisins.
The continuing fine weather is good news for Greece, where this year`s crop of Greek currants is totally sold out. Prices are likely to be expensive at the start of the season, as without a carryover of fruit from this year`s crop. Local farmers are likely to take full advantage of the short position and will seek high prices for their raw material. There should, however, be an incentive for farmers to dry more fruit this year and early expectations are for a currant crop approaching 20,000 tonnes. The UK has struggled this year with an absence of currants, but other products such as midget raisins or even chocolate pieces have been used as a substitute.
At a recent meeting of the Turkish Dried Fruit Association, discussion focused on the removal of pests and other damaged fruits for this year`s dried fig crop. The crop is progressing well and with the possibility of a carry-over of larger sized figs from this year, prices may open at more reasonable levels. Although a first shipment date has not yet been decided, it is thought this will be around the second week of September. Last year`s date was rather late, as with European port delays and fig prices, sales were lower than had been expected. It is to be hoped, therefore, that a greater effort will be made this year to ship earlier.
Finally, news from the US suggests that UK importers are still having difficulty in obtaining forward offers of US Thomson seedless raisins. The smaller than usual crop and high prices have reduced demand for US raisins from European buyers and this situation is likely to continue for the year ahead. As export figures have shown, however, strong demand for US raisins from Asia has given US raisin farmers a welcome boost. The continuing uncertainty regarding tariffs may present a problem, although to date there have been no reports of raisins being included.