Vice president of sales and marketing Paul Newstead said grapes, stone fruit, kiwifruit and cherries were the items hardest hit for Nathel International.
The cherry and kiwifruit losses were “catastrophic,” for the Pittsgrove, N.J., company, he said.
Newstead said there was no assessment yet on Chile’s pear and apple crops, which come later in growing cycle. He noted, however, that early varieties of those commodities were in bloom when the freezes hit.
Newstead said the knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that U.S. markets will receive less fruit this season, but he said the opposite could be true.
“We could get more fruit than normal if Chile can’t ship it elsewhere,” he said.
“Last year, Chilean grapes had some condition issues. We thought we would get less fruit, but we ended up getting more than expected because it couldn’t be sent to some other parts of the world,” he said.
Opportunities for Peru
Nathel imports grapes from Chile and Peru, and Newstead said if Chile does have supply issues, it may create an opportunity for Peruvian shippers.
“You don’t want to see anything bad happen to Chile,” he said. “It’s important to us, but conditions indicate that Peru is going to be important to retailers and wholesalers.
“As people transition from California to imports, it’s going to make more sense this year. Every year, quality is getting better with varieties they are planting and the job they are doing.”
Newstead said Peruvian grapes already have been harvested, but importers are waiting for California’s crop to wind down before bringing them into the U.S..
Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif., said the company didn’t expect “a major effect in our overall volumes” of Chilean grapes.
He said quality and condition should have more of an effect on price than volume.
“The fruit being sent to the U.S. needs to be good in order to get good results,” he said. “It is obvious to anyone in this industry what happens when fruit arrives with quality issues. Customers in the U.S. do not want to handle poor quality and condition, and growers know this. I expect the arrival of Chilean fruit to be good for this reason.”
Grant, however, said prices should be favorable for Chilean fruit due to reduced volumes and increased demand from other markets, especially Asia.
Grant said market demand for Chilean grapes will depend initially on how long supplies from California last.