Substantially larger volumes of Chilean blueberries are expected to wind up in U.S. markets this year, importers said.

Volumes out of Chile shouldn’t be a problem this year, said Nolan Quinn, berry category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It looks to be a big crop,” Quinn said. “We’re going to have a lot more volume than last year.”

Production is expected to be up 30% for one of Oppenheimer’s growers, Quinn said, and since the bulk of the grower’s blueberries are U.S.-bound, he expects shipments to the U.S. also to be up about 30%.

The expected higher volumes are a combination of increased acreage and excellent growing weather this season, Quinn said.

The deal will likely begin early for Oppenheimer, Quinn said, with the first containers expected to arrive the first week of December, a week or two earlier than usual.

Volumes could be up a whopping 90% for Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc., said Janice Honigberg, the company’s president. Honigberg expects an industrywide volume increase of about 33%.

Sun Belle’s Chilean deal begins earlier and ends later than those of most importers. The company began receiving shipments this season in July, Honigberg said, and the deal won’t likely wind down until April.

Peak arrivals were expected from the second week of January through the first week of February.

Cool weather

Growing weather in Chile has been colder than normal for some, with temperatures as low as 39 in some regions, said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc.

Shipments, however, are expected to be about on schedule. They will likely remain light through October, increase in November and increase even more in December, Bowe said.

Chilean shipments are expected to wind down for the company in mid-April, Bowe said. Volumes are expected to be up this season, he said.

“They should have much more volume than last year,” he said. “They just keep growing more.”

Unseasonably cool weather in late September and early October was pushing back the beginning of the deal, said Bob Ritchart, vice president of sales for Tampa, Fla.-based Sun Valley International.

Shipments from Chile’s northern growing region were underway in a very limited way the week of Oct. 11, Ritchart said. Volumes from the region wouldn’t likely hit, however, until mid- to late October.

All three blueberry growing regions of the country are running seven to 10 days behind, Ritchart said.

The deal was still likely to wind down on time, probably in mid-January, he said.

Volumes will likely be up significantly this season out of Chile, thanks to new bushes coming into heavier production, Ritchart said.

Plenty of supply

Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc. received its first shipment of blueberries from northern Chile the week of Oct. 11, said Joe Barsi, the company’s director of business development.

Volumes are expected to peak in January and February, with promotable quantities expected during both months, Barsi said.

An estimated 65,000 tons of blueberries are expected from Chile this year, 30% more than last season’s total of 50,000 tons, Barsi said.

Growers have reported favorable growing weather for the 2010-11 season, he said.

“The spring has been mild, so we are anticipating good quality,” he said.

The deal is expected to wind down about April 1, though it was too soon to tell for sure, Barsi said.

“It all depends on how Chile ends and North America begins,” he said.

Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC received its first shipment of Chilean blueberries the week of Oct. 11, and Jim Roberts, the company’s vice president of sales, said volumes would increase weekly until a likely peak in the second half of December.

“It’s a little late compared to what we initially projected and compared to a regular season,” Roberts said.

Still, as he pointed out, it’s a lot earlier than last season, when Naturipe’s Chilean deal didn’t peak until the end of January.

A combination of more acreage and higher yields would likely produce a crop 25% to 30% bigger than last year’s, Roberts said.

New bushes, he said, are “really spitting out a lot of fruit now.”

Light air shipments of Chilean blueberries from the country’s northern growing region began arriving for Watsonville-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. in mid-October, said John Johnston, the company’s director of blueberry product management.

But it will be a couple months, Johnston said, before Driscoll begins shipping in volume.

“We will have good supplies in the month of December,” he said.

Shipments will likely wind down with end of the southern Chile deal in mid-April, Johnston said. Like most other importers, Driscoll expects volumes to be up significantly in 2010-11.

Johnston credits Mother Nature with the anticipated boost.

“We expect production to be up considerably from last year due to more favorable weather conditions,” he said.