Exports of fresh California grapes hit a record high in 2005 with shipments to international markets of more than 360,000 metric tons valued at more than $529 million. That is a 21 percent increase in volume over 2004. By contrast, total industry volume increased by 6 percent over 2004.

Asia, the industry’s largest export region, saw some of the greatest growth. Compared to 2004, direct shipments to China and Hong Kong increased 77 percent and 51 percent, respectively, while shipments to Malaysia increased 39 percent and Taiwan increased by 122 percent. All figures are for May 2005 through January 2006 as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture.

China is the third largest export market after Canada and Mexico. Despite the competition with Red Globe grapes produced in China, we still saw a record number of exports, said Susan Day, vice president of international marketing for the California Table Grape Commission.

Economic booms

Part of this increase is attributed to booming economies in major Asian markets that, measured against a weak U.S. dollar in recent years, have allowed consumers more disposable income to buy imported goods. In addition, the expansion of large global retail chains and increased federal funding for international marketing have paved the way for greater marketing and promotion activities for California grapes in these growing markets.

Day said the commissions marketing strategy specifically targets countries that have the potential for high growth.

“We are competing in a huge global grape market with an increasing world production,” Day said. Competition is increasing, but California growers consistently produce such high quality table grapes that they are able to compete strongly.

2005 was a record year for 14 of the industry’s largest export markets, continuing a multiple-year increase for many of them including Asia, India and several countries in Central and South America. In the past five years (2001 through 2005), total exports of fresh California grapes have increased by 73,760 metric tons, the equivalent of 8.5 million 19-pound boxes.