Kiwifruit is Western Fresh’s largest commodity by volume. September freezes have drastically reduced its kiwifruit supplies.
Kiwifruit is Western Fresh’s largest commodity by volume. September freezes have drastically reduced its kiwifruit supplies.

Considering the amount of bad luck the Chilean fruit industry had this fall with drought and a severe freeze, Western Fresh Marketing Inc. finds itself in pretty good shape.

For example, Western Fresh’s vice president and sales manager Chris Kragie said Chilean growers lost about 80% of the country’s persimmon crop.

However, Western Fresh’s persimmon growers escaped the frost unscathed, and the Madera, Calif.-based company expects to have volumes similar to last year when it imported six containers of the fruit.

“There’s no way Chile can cover all the demand,” Kragie said of the country’s overall losses. “These could be highest prices I’ve seen in 18 years. With a limited amount of fruit to fill shelf space, some things are going to be handled differently.”

More apples, less kiwifruit

Kragie said customers are asking Western Fresh to import more Chilean apples because of an expected shortfall in the country’s kiwifruit crop.

Kiwifruit is Western Fresh’s largest commodity by volume, representing 350,000 of the 750,000 boxes is imported from Chile last year.

“We’re going to be hit pretty hard on kiwi,” Kragie said. “On other items we handle, we should be OK. We have some losses, but not like we have on kiwi.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Nov. 13 that 19.8 pounds-containers of loose Hayward size 25-27s and 30-33s were $16-16.50.

The Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association, Santiago, has estimated its members will fall about 50 million boxes of fruit short of the 282 million boxes it exported to global markets last season.

Kragie said that before the freeze, Western Fresh was expecting a slight increase in kiwifruit volume this season because of new plantings.

He said the company likely will have about 250,000 19.8-pound boxes, but he hopes to raise that closer to 300,000.

“We’ve added three growers so far since the freeze,” he said. “That will help ease some of the pain we’re going to feel. We’ll be in better position than most.”

Kragie said Western Fresh’s kiwifruit supplies likely will be later than normal, starting in April rather than March, and running through mid-September.

He said though it’s not clear exactly how much of the country’s kiwifruit crop was lost, he estimated it could be close to half.

“Kiwi prices are going to be seen at levels we haven’t seen before from Chile,” he said.

Asian pears looking good

Asian pears are Western Fresh’s second-biggest offering from Chile, accounting for 200,000 boxes last year.

Kragie said Western Fresh imported 65% of the Asian pears shipped from Chile to the U.S. last year, and he expects that to increase by at least 5% this year.

Kragie said Western Fresh’s growers lost up to 20% of their early varieties to the freeze, but the company expects its overall asian pear volume to be on par with last year because of new plantings in the middle and later varieties.

Kragie said Western Fresh expects to have asian pears from Chile from mid- or late February into July.

This is Western Fresh’s sixth season as a direct importer of Chilean fruit.

Kragie said the company hopes to increase its Chilean volume to 1 million packages per season within the next five years.