South African shipments come to an early close Cuban growers benefit as seasonal gap opens Rocketing grapefruit prices have meant a good start to the winter season, in particular benefiting Cuba which fills a niche market up until Christmas. Peter Strange, md of importer Hart and Friedmann and agent for the Cubanita brand which accounts for some 80% of UK shipments, expects volumes to be appreciably higher than last year, with a good quality crop. Wholesale market prices are as high as £9.50/carton, and there has been a surprise demand for White Marsh Seedless which is only around £1/carton less. Strange said: "While Cuba grows tropical fruit which is inclined to show some scarring, we have been very impressed with the appearance. Sizes have been slightly smaller than last season so we are concentrating on count 40s. We are anticipating running our programmes up until Christmas, and expect to return to the million carton export figure for Europe, with the UK receiving 20%." The surge is explained by South African grapefruit imports coming to a close earlier than anticipated. There is some Mexican fruit still on offer, but the first limited quantities of Jaffa have only just arrived. Sainsbury was advising customers this week that the shortage is expected to continue until this source gets under way. A question mark still remains over the other competitive source, Florida. Heavy rains have prevented picking so far, although there was little if any hurricane damage. Stuart Abbey, director of importer Poupart, returned from the state this week and estimates the season is already running 10 days' late. "The official crop census from the Department of Citrus (above) points to a heavier crop than anticipated, so sizes could be smaller. "We are basing our programmes on 36-40 counts." The level of exports could also be affected by the high juice prices, although Robert Ballin, newly appointed UK representative, said the Florida Department of Citrus was still anticipating at least the same amount as last year and might reach the million carton UK target. {{FRESH PRODUCE }}