Chilean produce suppliers say the economic downturn will not scare off business, but they expect more value-conscious consumers and tough sells for specialty items.

“I think that, based on the current economy and the high level of unemployment, the consumer is going to be very discriminating in looking for good values,” said David Schiro, president of Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y.

Schiro added that consumers’ disposable income for food has decreased, and they are not going to spend their money on products that they do not perceive to be good buys. He said it will be up to growers to ship the best possible quality fruit to market to be successful.

Bruce Dowhan, general manager of Giumarra of Escondido, Escondido, Calif., said the economy has affected avocado sales, especially in the foodservice sector.

“It makes sense. The average American is not eating out as much as they used to,” he said. “There has been some impact, but it hasn’t been a tremendous impact.”

Dowhan said avocados have not seen as much of a dip as other commodities because as people scale back on eating out, they are making more meals using avocados in ways other than in guacamole.

Josh Leichter, director of the grape category in the Newark, Del., office of The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said by extension retailers must also offer value to customers while still providing sustainable return to growers in Chile.

Chris Kragie, sales manager at Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said the down economy has heavily depressed the price of kiwifruit, which is becoming a more mainstream item.

“Consumers are getting more bang for the buck,” he said. “Kiwis are high in fiber, higher in vitamin C. Now with kiwis at a price that is consumer friendly, consumers are buying a lot more than years past.”

Tom Tjerandsen, marketing manager for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., said the marketplace has room for South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand and Australia in addition to Chile as long as the promotional programs are put into place.

“We feel there is plenty of room for all of us,” he said. “We applaud the additional arrival of other Southern Hemisphere shippers as long as they put the promotional programs in place to help all of us increase consumption.”