Thanks to a combination of El Nino-related weather events and fewer acres planted, supplies of peaches, nectarines and plums from Chile are short and will likely stay short for the remainder of the deal.

“It’s a unique year,” said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y. “We’ve seen historically light volumes so far.”

Chilean peach shipments were down 50%, nectarine shipments 35% and plum shipments 21% industrywide, Jerry Smirniotis, East Coast vice president and stone fruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said Feb. 2.

And late-season plum varieties expected in February, March and April could be down as much as 50%, he said.

“The balance of the season, there will be lower numbers than expected” on all Chilean stone fruit, Smirniotis said.

Padover, however, said higher volumes expected later in February would provide retailers with promotional opportunities.

Prices are averaging $2-4 more per box as a result of the shortage, Smirniotis said. Padover said prices were about 20% above average in early February.

“Markets have been incredible,” said Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, import managers for Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC, Reedley, Calif.

Some surges in volume could bring prices for some varieties down in the next few weeks, but for the most part, markets should stay very strong, Abu-Ghazaleh said. Pacific Trellis expects to bring peaches and nectarines in from Chile into March, and the company’s import plum deal could run into early May.

Prices will likely hold steady for the remainder of the deal, Smirniotis said. Padover, however, said prices could come down when the greater volumes begin shipping later in February.

On Feb. 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-18 for two-layer tray packs of yellow-flesh peaches 40-44 from Chile, up from $10-12 last year at the same time.

Two-layer tray packs of plums 40s from Chile were $18-20, up from $16 last year.

Peaches and nectarines are expected to wind down in mid- to late March, plums toward the end of April, Smirniotis and Padover said.
Fruit is smaller this season, Smirniotis said. Retailers have been accepting fruit that is, on average, about a size smaller than last year, he said.

While North American retailers prefer larger fruit, there has been one upside to the size profile this season, he said.

“The smaller sizes are helping with the price point,” Smirniotis said.

Overall fruit quality has been “very good,” Smirniotis said.