Shippers of some Christmas produce favorites looked forward to brisk movement of high-quality product, but others faced supply and quality issues heading into the holidays.
Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, reported abundant volumes of high-quality California navels heading into the winter holidays.
“The condition and quality are excellent,” Blakely said. “The cool weather really brought on the color.”
Fruit was peaking on prime sizes, mainly 88s and 72s, Blakely said.
Initially growers thought they might not reach the preseason estimate of 88 million cartons, but in mid-November Blakely said that estimate still looked good, thanks to near-perfect growing weather this fall.
Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sunkist Growers, Sherman Oaks, Calif., said consumers can expect good quality and ample supplies for the holiday.
“Maturity is running a little behind last year, but overall harvest volume to date is similar to last year,” she said. “There will be very promotable volumes available through Christmas.”
A large number of pomegranates are cracking in California fields and it’s having a significant effect on volumes and fruit size, grower-shippers said.
Cracking, or splitting, of fruit occurred at the beginning of the Wonderful variety deal this year in California, which is rare, said Jeff Simonian, sales manager of Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co.
Typically, pomegranates don’t crack until late in the deal, he said.
Simonian Fruit will likely ship up to 30% fewer pomegranates than last season.
“It’s been a difficult year,” he said. “We’ve also been fighting color.”
The size profile of this year’s California crop also has been an issue, with very few 20s and larger left for non-contract sale, said Julian Lipschitz, a consultant in the Reedley, Calif., office of D.J. Forry Co. Inc., Novato, Calif.
The Cranberry Network LLC, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., expects to have one of its highest-quality fresh crops ever for Christmas pull, said Bob Wilson, managing member.
That said, Wilson was concerned about low-quality product on the market, and hoped it wouldn’t turn consumers off in December.
John Decas, chairman of the board of Wareham, Mass.-based Decas Bros, said once fresh berries leave the shipper, they can be displayed too long at retail, which can affect quality. If retailers spray water on cranberries, that too can hurt them.
Movement also was a problem heading into December, Wilson said. Whether that was related to the sluggish economy, or just to Canada under-reporting its shipments, Wilson didn’t know. But it was producing a flood of product, with the hope of lowering the price and spurring movement.
When the market is flooded like that, Decas said, quality can be compromised.
Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, already had several Christmas retail promotions lined up the week of Nov. 21., said Jamey Higham, vice president for business development and foodservice.
“We’re expecting a good season,” Higham said. “We’d like to see a little push (on prices) leading up to the end of the year, but who knows.”
Potandon reported good quality and a nice range of sizes on russets, Goldusts, Klondike Roses and other varietals in late November, Higham said.
Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, expected russet markets to remain steady through the end of the year. Wada also expects promotable quantities of high-quality potatoes for the holiday.
On Nov. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15.73-16.75 for 7/10 bushel cartons of navels 72s from California, down from $17.63-18.65 last year at the same time.
Twenty-four 12-ounce film bags of medium Howe cranberries from Massachusetts were $33-34, comparable to last year.
Fifty-pound cartons of russet potatoes 70s from Idaho were $9.50-10, down from $14-15 last year.
Two-layer cartons of Wonderful pomegranates 20-22s were $20-24 on the Los Angeles Terminal Market, down from $24-26 last year.