Table Grapes From Italy


Carving out an unlikely niche

Mike Knowles

For Italian table grape exporters, North America has never been a major priority, but for some it represents an important market.

Produce marketers are always looking for a unique category that can carve out a niche among the myriad fresh items

competing for shelf space. Baby kiwifruit from Oregon, mangoes from India or Taiwanese dragonfruit might spring to

mind, but table grapes from Italy? At first glance, one would have to say ‘not likely’, as there are already plenty of

grapes from California flooding markets across the US and Canada each summer.

But actually, Italy does have something rather different to offer North American consumers when it comes to eating

table grapes during the summer months. The late-season Italia variety is the most heavily exported to North America

as its distinct muscat flavor is appreciated by European ex-patriots longing for a taste of the old continent, while

another variety, Vittoria, is also shipped in limited volumes to the US and Canada each year, with initial arrivals in


“There are about 54m first-, second-, and third-generation Italians in the US,” says Celso Paganini of Paganini Foods,

based in Swedesboro, NJ. “The market for Italian grapes is not limited to this ethnic group only, however, as there are

other groups that love white seeded grapes like Russians, eastern Europeans and Hispanics.”

For many Italian table grape exporters, however, the prospect of shipping significant volumes of fruit to markets in

North America remains, for the time being at least, a remote one. “North America is really difficult,” one major supplier

serving supermarkets across Europe told americafruit. “The commercial relationships between Europe and Canada

when it comes to grapes aren’t good, while in the United States at the moment it’s impossibile to get a foot in the door

because California is completely dominant.”

Italy is the world’s largest producer of grapes, both for eating and wine-making. Last year, it produced a total of 1.37m

tonnes of table grapes, according to Istat. The province of Puglia, located at the boot heel of the peninsula along the

east coast, is the country’s main growing region, accounting for as much as 60 per cent of annual production, with

Sicily following behind with approximately 30 per cent. According to the USDA, Italy exported 971 metric tonnes of

table grapes to North America in 2008 after averaging just under 1,300 tonnes for most of the previous decade.

Shipments were down substantially in 2007, primarily due to a weak US dollar, but there could be something of a

recovery this season.

“Volume for 2009 will probably be around 1,000 tonnes again, mostly of the Italia variety,” says Mr Paganini . “How

much will be shipped though depends on what is going to happen to the California crop with their drought as well as

what transportation rates do this summer. Last year, it cost the same to ship grapes from Italy by ocean as it did by

truck from California!”

Shipments to Canada, meanwhile, were significantly curtailed last year due to the detection of a pest (othiorincus

corruptor), which prompted officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to insist on mandatory


“Exports to Canada were heavily reduced in 2008 because of mandatory fumigation of Italian grapes ordered by the

CFIA due to this insect, which is present in the table grapes growing areas in Italy,” explains Mr Paganini. “This year,

all product will be delivered directly to our facility in Swedesboro for fumigation under supervision by the USDA. Our

big advantage is that we fumigate under controlled conditions, keeping the temperature just above the required

minimum so we can guarantee the Canadian market a better quality product.”

If there is uncertainty about the upcoming Italian season, it probably centres around the suddenly deteriorating value

of the US dollar, something which has affected shipments in the past. “The euro was going in the right direction since

last season until recently,” says Mr Paganini. “There has been a change in the last few weeks of more than 10 per cent,

which makes the business a little bit less competitive. Keep in mind though that only 40 per cent of the final price to

the American consumer is expressed in euros, the rest is all in US dollars. Consequently, a 20 per cent increase of the

euro would cause only an 8 per cent increase of the final price to the American consumer.”


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