Soaring asparagus prices should return to Earth as Mexican volumes increase.

Prices for Peruvian asparagus topped $50 a box in January, which wasn’t exactly what marketers like Jeff Friedman, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Carb Americas Inc., wanted to see.

“It slowed retail sales something fierce,” Friedman said. “Once it hit $40, retailers said, ‘No, we’re going to stop.’”

On Jan. 23, 11-pound cartons of jumbo asparagus from Peru sold for $56-58 on the Miami terminal market, up from $33-34 last year at the same time.

Freezing weather in Mexico set back growers one or two weeks, straining the Peruvian industry to meet demand at the tail end of its deal, said Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J.

“One of our (Peruvian) growers was able to extend a couple weeks,” he said. “We had shipments every other night coming into Miami.”

By Jan. 23, there were signs that markets were starting to weaken, Friedman said, but perhaps because of the lingering sticker shock from the weeks’ prior movement was still slow.

Friedman said he hoped the lower prices would make the transition smoother to cheaper Mexican product.

“U.S. importers are taking a very conservative stand right now,” he said. “They don’t want really high prices when the snowball (of Mexican product) comes across the border.”

By the week of Jan. 28, markets should start to stabilize, and by the week of Feb. 4 they should be close to normal, Auerbach said.

“Volumes in Mexico should be sufficient,” he said. 

Peru, Mexico

The extremely high January prices were because of Peru and Mexico, Friedman said.

Following a weak holiday market, many Peruvian growers let their fields go to fern and diverted fresh-market supplies to processing.

Then, when unseasonably cold weather in Mexico in mid-January cut into volumes, marketers found themselves staring down an empty pipeline.

Crossings were expected to increase, however, the weekend of Jan. 26-27, and markets could fall further.

“At any time, we could go from $36-38 for 11-pound boxes to $36-38 for 28-pound boxes,” Friedman said.

Complicating that, however, is a forecast of cold weather the week of Jan. 28, he said. In addition, two West Coast retail chains were running asparagus on ad the week of Jan. 28, which could keep prices from going down much further. Then, before long, Valentine’s Day promotions will pick up.

“The next two or three weeks will be very interesting,” Friedman said.