(Feb. 20) Continued large volumes of blueberries from Chile should keep markets weaker than usual, and late shipments could overlap with early U.S. shipments and weaken prices even more, importers said.

Through Feb. 10, 22,000 tons of blueberries had been imported to the U.S. from Chile this season, a 40% increase over last year, said Keith Mixon, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based SunnyRidge Farm Inc.

“It’s definitely a record from Chile,” he said. “Consumption has been very good, but pricing has suffered somewhat due to the volume.”

Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., reported a 35-40% volume increase in its Chilean imports over last year, said Robert Verloop, vice president of marketing.

Dave Bowe, president of Dave's Specialty Imports Inc., Miami, also reported heavy volumes and flat markets as a consequence.

“Compared to last year and previous years, we’re seeing very, very high volumes,” he said.

Verloop said f.o.b.s should stabilize as the season winds down, but there should be enough volume for promotions until the end of the deal.

On Feb. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10-12 for flats of 12 4.4-oz. cups with lids.

Mixon predicts the deal should wind up by early April, clearing the pipeline for domestic deals.

Verloop agreed, saying the Chilean season should finish faster than usual this year.

“It should be a fairly smooth transition, much more orderly than expected,” he said.

But Bowe wasn’t as optimistic.

“Volumes from Chile should be good through April, which will not be good for the domestic deal,” he said. “Chilean fruit will be low-priced compared to what the domestic deals begin with.”

Bowe reported variable quality on the 2007-08 crop from Chile.

“Quality is fair,” he said. “There’s been very, very little good quality, and the occasional poor quality.”

Quality also has been a mixed bag for SunnyRidge, Mixon said.

“Depending on the weather and other things, the quality has been excellent sometimes, fair sometimes and poor sometimes,” he said.

Heavy Chilean berry imports spark domestic concern
Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., has seen high volumes of Chilean blueberries in the last year, says Robert Verloop, vice president of marketing. Verloop says the Chilean season should end in early April.