Andy Nelson, markets editor
Andy Nelson, markets editor

The year is beginning in typical chaos.

I forgot to order a 2015 desk calendar in 2014. As a result, the only one left in the catalog is a lovely pink number with butterflies flying and rainbows arcing across the page.

In anticipation, I’ve been brushing up on dotting my i’s with hearts instead of dots.

The most discombobulating thing about 2015 thus far, however, occurred when I made my first trip of the year to the grocery store.

On Jan. 3 at the Overland Park, Kan., Queen’s Price Chopper, it was like 2014 all over again: strawberries for $5.99 a pound.

Florida, California, Mexico — they’re all coming. I don’t doubt it. But they’re not here yet.

I took a few steps to the left and things got weirder: grapes, $4.99 a pound. Not a typo.

Then it got really Twilight Zone-ish. I kept drifting left until I saw, right next to the gourmet grapes and strawberries, the “discount” fruit of the day.

Cherries, from Chile, for $2.99 a pound.

Cherries, as in the things from Washington my wife will pay $9 a pound for in June, traveling about 5,000 miles to get from the fields of Chile to the supermarkets of Kansas City.

It won’t last. I should have bought them all, waited a couple days, then set up a stand on my driveway — $3.99, $4.99, do I hear $5.99?

Steve Pearson, sales manager of Los Angeles-based Bengard Marketing, told me that the anomalous price I saw was probably part of an effort to clear the pipeline of smaller-sized fruit. No chance of finding big cherries at that price.

By about mid-January, it will start to get hard to find anything at any price, Pearson said.

“It’s going to shut off real quick.”

Late fall rains made a serious dent in the 2014-15 Chilean cherry crop. In addition, heavy Asian demand has meant a smaller percentage earmarked for U.S. markets, importers told me.

Light as they are, volumes through early January were still above last season, when freezes cut big chunks out of cherries and many other Chilean fruits. Through Jan. 4, about 15.3 million pounds had been exported to the U.S., up from 11.9 million pounds in 2013-14.

This year’s numbers also are higher than 2012-13, but far below the two seasons before that, when exports to the U.S. through Jan. 4 totaled 25.4 million pounds (2011-12) and 30 million pounds (2010-11).

The volumes might be light this year, but the quality has been very good, which my own sampling of that $2.99 batch confirmed.

Those cheap cherries have been a nice bridge — in my household, anyway — until the strawberries and grapes start flowing.

And other Chilean fruits. At the beginning of the stone fruit deals in early January, importers forecast more seasonally normal volumes, which means a big jump from frost-damaged 2013-14.

Plums in particular, while on the small side, could see the biggest volume bump. One importer said schools have expressed more interest, given the more kid-friendly size profile.

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