Dried vine fruits have for many years been regarded as an inexpensive ingredient for both manufacturers and retailers. Price variations have in the main related to either crop shortages caused by inclement weather or variations in currency.
The good news for European buyers has always been that there have always been alternative origins to be called upon if there has been a problem with an individual crop from any one producing country.
Iran had traditionally been a major supplier of both sultanas and raisins to Germany, Holland and the UK, but following economic sanctions and the ongoing difficulties of trading with Iran, exports to the EU have slowed to a trickle. This has meant that the UK in particular has gradually relied more and more on the purchase of both sultanas and raisins from a single source, namely Turkey, with currants purchased from Greece.
This year this has proved to be something of a problem, as Greece in particular does not have enough raw material to satisfy demand and Turkey has gradually increased its selling prices following changes in the local currency and the different split of raw material between raisins and sultanas.
California in the past has been a major supplier of raisins to the UK but following a reduction in the acreage given over to raisins and a change in marketing strategy and support the focus appears to have moved away from exports to the EU to other more lucrative markets such as Asia.
The dramatic decline in exports of US raisins to the EU over the past year has caught markets by surprise and it is to be hoped that US packers and exporters will now look to address sales in the coming months with more competitive prices and market support.
Southern hemisphere producers have enjoyed something of a boom over the past year as export demand for South African raisins and sultanas increased on the back of shortages from both the US and other producers. This has enabled South Africa to sell out its crop of dried vine fruits and it seems probable depending on prices set that a similar scenario will occur this year.
The substantial growth in exports of fresh grapes from Chile has also helped to develop its dried fruit industry as exports of Chilean Flame and Thompson raisins have increased and become a standard product for UK manufacturers and retailers.
Time will tell whether the present higher prices for dried vine fruits will have an impact on the quantities of fruit purchased by the UK this year. To date however sales have been strong and relatively unaffected.
Dried fruit is a particularly versatile product with a long shelf life and many applications, so it is to be hoped that demand will continue or even increase as new products come into being. There may in the future be an opportunity for greater emphasis to be placed on the different varieties and the different origins which certainly should help sales of products such as Californian raisins and Australian and South African sultanas.
Prices remain broadly unchanged week on week for Turkish sultanas and raisins and Greek currants. US raisin prices have however eased slightly, being helped by the gradual improvement in the value of sterling against the US dollar. Buyers now wait on new season prices from southern hemisphere producers and these are expected to become available in the next few weeks.