INDIA – Indian table grape exporters are grappling with a significant hurdle as logistical access via the Red Sea faces disruptions due to shipping lines diverting services away from the region in response to attacks by Houthi rebels.

Euro Fruits, India’s largest grape exporter, anticipates severe repercussions for the grape trade into Europe, traditionally bridging the gap between Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

Nitin Agrawal, Managing Director of Euro Fruits, expressed concern, stating, “The situation is scary and terrible, and the entire trade will be affected badly.”

With the shipping crisis unfolding, exporters are compelled to adapt swiftly to longer transit times around the southern tip of Africa, impacting the timely delivery of perishable goods.

Container freight rates, which were at approximately USD1,200 before the crisis, have surged to nearly USD 5,000, posing an additional financial strain on exporters. Agrawal laments, “Overall it is a complete mess.”

As a result of the Red Sea disruption, fresh produce suppliers, particularly those exporting perishable product lines to Europe, are confronted with increased transit times and logistical hurdles.

Steve Alaerts, Partner at Antwerp-based Foodcareplus, explains that the mandatory detour route will lead to up to two weeks of extra lead time, causing disruptions in market arrivals for a significant period.

Agricultural trade with Europe faces additional challenges, with key seasonal suppliers struggling to maintain their supply schedules.

Alaerts predicts a ripple effect, stating, “There is also an export interruption in the second half of January, because ships returning from Asia are not arriving in Europe in time to load new exports, meaning that from mid-March, there will again be interruptions in arrivals at the destination markets.”

The impact extends beyond grapes, affecting the supply of apples in India. Prashant Gidwani, Director at Fresh Fruit Alliances Pvt. Ltd, notes the slowdown in Indian apple imports, emphasizing the disruption’s extensive reach: “The recent Red Sea issues have disrupted trade on one of the world’s most important shipping routes.”

With vessels rerouting around southern Africa, the transit time for ships from Europe to India has extended by 15-20 days, escalating sea freights, and significantly affecting the apple supply chain.

Despite the challenges, Gidwani remains optimistic, pointing to apples stored in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) chambers as a potential relief for the strong demand.

In the face of this multifaceted crisis, exporters, traders, and stakeholders in the fresh produce industry are navigating unprecedented challenges, calling for agile strategies to mitigate the impact and sustain vital trade connections.

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