Import blueberry markets should remain strong through December, and port woes on the West Coast could add more pressure.
Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms was transitioning from two South American countries to a third in mid-November, said Jerry Connery, the company’s blueberry category manager.
The week of Nov. 17, Cal Giant was winding down its Argentinian and Uruguayan deals and bringing in its first Chilean fruit of the season, Connery said.
Cal Giant expected vessel arrivals from Chile on Dec. 3, Dec. 5 and Dec. 7.
Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC expects to ship Argentinian blueberries well into December, but volumes will decline weekly and are lower because of late-season rains in the country, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management.
Chilean fruit will arrive largely by air until vessel arrivals take over, Bocock said. Some boat shipments will arrive in December, but the “big switch” from air to sea won’t likely happen until the end of December or beginning of January.
By Nov. 21, Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc. had already received several air shipments from Chile, and the company expected its first vessel the week of Nov. 24, said Mike Bowe, vice president.
“Argentina is winding down quickly and Chile is falling right into place,” Bowe said.
Cal Giant also expected a smooth transition between its South American deals.
“There’s not much of an overlap at all,” Connery said Nov. 21. “We got a little short at the end of this week.”
Even with slightly higher weekly volumes than last year at this time, movement has been brisk, Connery said.
“Demand’s been very good, and I don’t see it coming off much until the middle or end of December.”
On Nov. 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $26 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups of blueberries from Argentina, up from $22 last year at the same time.
Good quality from all three South American countries was helping drive that demand, Connery said.
“The quality from Argentina was excellent — we never had any problems. Uruguay also was very good. And I haven’t heard of a lot of rain in most of the Chilean regions.”
Bocock also reported good quality on early-season Chilean fruit.
Industry-wide volumes will likely be down through the end of the year, due to the rains in Argentina and higher air freight rates out of Chile, Bocock said. As a result, pint sales won’t likely take off until after Christmas.
“Pricing will remain strong. It will be a 6-ounce marketplace” until late December or early January, Bocock said. “But there will be good opportunities at the right price point to promote 6-ounce packs for Christmas.”
The best promotional window for Chilean blueberries this season, however, will be early February to early March, Bocock said. Industry-wide volumes in the New Year, he said, should be up from last year at the same time.
Bowe said December volumes will likely be typical for that time of year.
One possible wrinkle this season could be transportation, Connery said — specifically, the situation at ports on the U.S. West Coast. He said he hopes port workers in Los Angeles get their contract talks resolved.
“So far, the transportation situation is looking smooth, but it hasn’t gotten here yet.”
Naturipe also was keeping a close eye on the port situation, Bocock said.
“It’s causing some angst. We’re watching it very keenly. We hope it comes to some resolution the first or second week of December.”
Bowe also was concerned, but also optimistic about bringing fruit in on the West Coast.
“It could throw a little kink in things, but for the most part I think it will be business as usual.”