(Nov. 13, 5:18 p.m.) Longan fruit from Taiwan could begin arriving in the U.S. in the next few months.

The question is, how much of a market will there be for it?

Pending the successful completion of a comment period on a regulation allowing the fruit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service could begin allowing fruit in early in 2009.

But its prospects in the U.S. are unclear, said Robert Schueller, public relations director for World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles, which markets specialty produce under the Melissa’s label.

World Variety typically brings in longans from Hawaii from September to March, the off-season for the fruit’s more popular cousin, the lychee. The company first imported longans seven years ago.

But so far this season, Schueller hasn’t seen any Hawaiian longans or received any orders for them.

Not that customers were breaking down doors for them in the past.

“They haven’t really caught on” to the degree lychees and a third tropical cousin, rambutans, have, Schueller said.

Freight and irradiation costs have put a dent in demand for some longan shipments from Hawaii and Thailand, said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Los Alamitos-based Frieda's Inc.

And the current state of the economy doesn’t help, either, Caplan said.

Nevertheless, Taiwanese longans could still find a niche, she said.

“I’m sure if product is available and good-quality, and it’s not competing with other fruit, it will be on our list,” she said.

Caplan said it will be interesting to see if customers who associate lychees with summer will want the similar longans in winter.

Longans are smaller and not as sweet or juicy as lychees and rambutans, Schueller said.

Last spring and summer, World Variety experimented with a Thai longan deal, he said. But it was overshadowed by several competing lychee deals, and the irradiated Thai fruit faced logistical hurdles and didn’t have as good a shelf life as Hawaiian longans.

Nevertheless, if Taiwanese longans arrived in time for the Chinese New Year Jan. 26, and didn’t have the same problems as the Thai longans they could find a market window before the spring and summer lychee deals in California, Florida, Mexico, China, Taiwan and Israel get underway, Schueller said.

“It’s definitely something we’ll be looking at,” he said. “I haven’t tasted them, but I’ve heard they’re very flavorful.”

Green Tree International Inc., Visalia, Calif., which has imported lychees from Taiwan and China in the past, did not plan on bringing in longans from Taiwan — or any tropicals from Asia, for that matter — this season, said Tony Taviano, salesman.

Unlike Thailand, Taiwan would not have to irradiate the longans it ships to the U.S. But fruit would be subject to cold treatment and special point-of-arrival inspection procedures for certain pests.

Taiwanese longans would not be allowed in Florida, a longan-producing state.