Importers of West Mexican vegetables are looking forward to strong demand as the industry continues to pick up the slack from freeze-battered Florida.

Guadalajara, Mexico-based Divemex SA expects an early end to its greenhouse cucumber deal this spring, said Kevin Batt, greenhouse category manager for Vancouver, British Colum-bia-based The Oppenheimer Group, which markets Mexican greenhouse vegetables for Divemex.

“The cuke deal will probably fizzle out in April,” he said.

The reason for less product at the end of the deal? More product at the beginning of it, Batt said.

“There’s generally a gap between Canada and Mexico in November,” he said. “More guys strove to fill that gap.”

Still, there won’t likely be a gap this spring when the Mexican greenhouse cucumber deal yields to the Canadian green-house deal, Batt said.

With some growers north of the border using lights to grow early-season cukes, the Cana-dian deal should be “up and running” by March, he said.

The only potential for a tighter market would be if cold January temperatures in the Culiacan growing region, where Divemex grows its greenhouse cukes, continued, slowing production there, Batt said.

Divemex’s greenhouse pepper and tomato shipments to the U.S. should be more normal, Batt said.

Pepper volume ramps up in December and January and stays steady through the spring and into summer, he said.

Pepper sizes, however, could be affected by the cold weather in Culiacan, Batt said.

“There are a lot more smaller bells, No. 2s,” he said.

Also, Batt said, more bells normally pegged for colored bell markets could be picked early to take advantage of strong green bell markets. As a result, there could be fewer red and yellow bells down the road.

The company’s Mexican greenhouse tomato deal will likely wind down near the end of June.

The only thing new on the horizon for 2010 is the likeli-hood that more beefsteaks will be packed in two-layer instead of one-layer boxes, Batt said.

There’s no demand for one-layers within Mexico, Batt said. If more product is packed in two-layers, shippers can be more flexible about whether it winds up in the U.S. or stays at home, depending on where the market is strongest.

As far as demand goes, if Florida’s freeze-related vegetable losses are severe enough, markets for Mexican vegetables coming through Nogales could be vibrant in coming months, Batt said.

“From a market perspective, everyone’s kind of holding their breath,” he said. “We’ve heard of areas that were harder hit than others.”

On the vegetable side, No-gales-based Farmer’s Best International LLC plans to import green and colored bell peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant and vine-ripe, hot-house and grape tomatoes from Mexico this spring, said Rick Burkett, a salesman with the company.

Separating the winter from the spring vegetable deals is somewhat artificial, given that the transition will likely never be noted by customers.

“We don’t miss a beat,” Burkett said.

Farmer’s Best will be bringing in tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and cucumbers from the Sinaloa growing region this spring, he said.

New on tap for the company this spring will be an increase in its English cucumber produc-tion, Burkett said.

“We did trials last year, and I think we’ll see more of it this year,” he said.

What the Mexican tomato deal for the Nogales office of Meyer LLC lacked in timing, it helped make for in quality, said Jesse Driskill, the company’s operations manager.

“The start to the deal was a little later than we wanted it to be, but what we’ve got is absolutely wonderful,” Driskill said.

The beginnings of the com-pany’s green, roma and cherry deals were about two weeks later than normal, thanks to rain and cooler-than-normal weather, he said. With fruit on the tree longer, size profiles could be larger this spring.

Most of Meyer’s Mexican product ships from just north of the Sinaloa city of Culiacan, Driskill said.

Because of recent staff changes — the most prominent of which was the rehiring of Driskill, who rejoined Meyer in November after 20 months at the helm of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas — the company is concentrating on tomatoes only this spring and won’t be ship-ping any other vegetables, Driskill said.

It’s the first year since at least 1990 that Meyer hasn’t sold other vegetables in the spring deal, said Driskill, whose first tenure at the company began that year and ended in 2003.

“I got in here late, there were some major changes, and we didn’t feel comfortable doing a lot of different vegetables,” he said. “We’re pulling back to basics, and making sure we do it exactly right.”
Nogales-based Ciruli Bros. LLC expects to ship Mexican tomatoes into April, but its green bean deal will likely wind down before Easter, said Chris Ciruli, a partner in the company.

Ciruli Bros.’ cucumber deal in the Caborca growing region of Mexico will likely kick off in late March, Ciruli said.

Ciruli expects volumes simi-lar to last year on the company’s Mexican spring vegetable deals.

The Nogales office of Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. expects to import chili peppers, colored bell peppers, shade-house cucumbers, Eng-lish cucumbers and mature-green, vine-ripe, on-the-vine and roma tomatoes from Mexico this spring, said Nick Rendon, division sales manager.

Volumes on the company’s spring vegetables out of Mexico are expected to be about the same as last year, Rendon said.

New for Giumarra this sea-son is an overwrapped cucum-ber pack, Rendon said.

“It’s wrapped like English cucumbers, but it’s a regular cucumber,” he said.