Demand is very strong for a short crop of high-quality Chilean cherries.

Rains in late November reduced the size of the Chilean crop from 21 million to 16.5 million boxes, and with much of that fruit bound for Asian markets, it’s produced a demand-exceeds market in North America, said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Yonkers, N.Y.-based Jac Vandenberg Inc.

“Customers are chomping at the bit to promote Chilean cherries, but we don’t feel like there will be enough to meet demand,” he said Dec. 19. “The vessels arriving in the next 10 days, I don’t see a lot of cherries on them.”

Eric Cole, sales manager for Tustin, Calif.-based Sierra Produce, said volumes could actually wind up being as low as 14 million boxes.

And with demand to Southeast Asia so strong, U.S. importers have struggled to find enough product.

“We’ve had a tough time meeting demand,” Cole said. “The spot market has been very good on what few have reached the West Coast, and we expect the same through mid-January.”

Sierra Produce’s deal will likely wind down then, a week to ten days earlier than normal, Cole said.

While volumes are down, quality has been very good, Padover said.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t remember a year with as few problems. I think they’re sweet and I think they’re crunchy. There are very few perfect cherries out of Chile, but retailers shouldn’t worry.”

Cole agreed.

“The size and condition have been really good. They’ve done a nice job of segregating what they put on the water.”

The success of standup pouches has helped keep the fruit that is shipping moving at a brisk pace, Padover said.

In addition to the rains at the end of November, rains forecasted for late December could throw another wrench in the deal, Padover said.

“People are trying to harvest as many as they can.”

Through the week of Dec. 15, volumes were actually up over last season, Padover said. But that could be traced in large part to a significant decline in 2013-14 volumes due to devastating freezes.

And even though Chilean product would likely ship through January, volumes will likely be limited, he said.

Jac Vandenberg is pinning its hopes on other Chilean fruits this season.

“Maybe what we can lose in cherries we can make up for in plums, peaches and nectarines,” Padover said.