Overall, imports of fresh fruit from Chile to the U.S. should continue along the same course as they have for the past few years, sources say, but Asia is a major competitor, especially for Chilean cherries.

“Although Chile is clearly expanding its reach and selling to more global markets every year, the volume shipped to North America has remained relatively stable for the past five years,” said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.

Brux said this demonstrates the importance of North America to Chile and the strong relationships Chile has developed with importers and retailers.

Brux mentioned that certain commodity volumes may be shifting.

“While some commodities have fallen in volume, others, like blueberries and citrus, have seen huge growth in this market,” she said.

Asian markets are often willing to pay high prices for Chilean fruit.

“Per-capita consumption of produce is incredibly high in Asia and, in general, the markets are willing to pay premium prices for premium product,” Brux said.

“If you look at specific items like cherries, for example, China was paying a high of $80 per box for Chilean cherries last year,” she said. “Where else could a grower obtain that pricing?”

Others agree.

Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Yonkers, N.Y.-based Jac. Vandenberg Inc., said cherries are an interesting commodity for Chile because even though over 20 million boxes may be expected for the season, over two-thirds of those will be shipped to Asia.

“It’s a bigger crop for Chile, but you have to filter it with that knowledge. Even still, we anticipate much better availability for cherries,” Padover said, mentioning lengthening the season would be especially helpful.

“The goal would be to extend the season further into January,” he said.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said the company has also seen a shift to Asia, specifically China.

“We have seen the effects on early season markets this fall with several marketers commenting their import volumes to the U.S. are less than expected as their grower-exporter has decided to divert the fruit to Asia for better returns,” Flores said.

This transition may start to affect more than just shipments, but also growing practices, Flores said.

“We will not only see shift in volumes from the U.S. to Asia, but also farms shift growing practices and new acres dedicated to the Asian market,” he said.

However, even with higher prices in Asia, Brux said Chilean growers are cautious.

“There’s a certain level of risk involved in doing business in Asia and it can be a very challenging market. The same holds true for other emerging markets, like eastern Europe,” she said.