Importers wait for updates from Chile on freeze

10/15/2013 02:15:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Importers continue to weigh the possible effects a series of freezes in Chile in September could have on exports to North America.

Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC hopes to get concrete damage estimates from its suppliers by early November, said Angie Eastham, sales manager.

The freeze happened during the bloom period for many fruits, Eastham said. Whether some of that fruit recovers remains to be seen.

“There will be some losses, but we’re trying to stay optimistic,” she said. “We’re still waiting for information.”

Early estimates by Pacific Trellis’s suppliers put stone fruit and cherry losses at 30-50% and kiwifruit losses as high as 60%, Eastham said. Grape losses are expected to be much lower — an estimated 10% of sugraones and 5-10% of flames.

On Oct. 15, Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture estimated that fruit exports could be down 22% because of frost damage, according to media reports. The week of Oct. 7, the Santiago-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) said an accurate assessment of losses would probably not be available until Oct. 18-20.

Immediately after the freezes, industry officials and importers estimated losses of up to 80% of apricots, 65% of kiwifruit and plums and 50% of peaches and nectarines.

Grapes, apples, blueberries and avocado volumes are expected to be less affected.

Some importers continued to emphasize that the reduction in overall Chilean volumes will not be the same as the reduction in product that winds up in North American markets.

John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., said that as of mid-October, the Chilean grape crop would be about 15% smaller because of the freezes.

But based on the experience of the 2012-13 season, grape shipments to North America this season actually could be up. Pandol said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a 10% jump.

“Despite all of the negative weather issues last year, 2012 saw a 10% increase in grape imports over 2011,” Pandol said. “Historically, whenever Chile is long on low quality and poor condition, or there is an event that is supposed to impact volume, the U.S. gets more grapes.”

Other import markets, Pandol said, are more skittish about importing Chilean product when a weather event or something else disrupts the market.

“The U.S. is more accommodating to upward volatility than other places,” he said.

In addition, Pandol said, early estimates are often much different than the reality that follows.

“They’re just not thoughtful about it,” he said. “It’s just kind of a reaction. At the end of the day, fruit seems to show up.”

Eastham agreed with Pandol that some grapes that normally would go to Europe could instead wind up in the U.S., potentially resulting in a similar-sized crop as last season.

Not knowing the exact extent of damage has made it difficult for companies like Pacific Trellis to set up programs with U.S. retailers.

“At this point, we have to tell them that we’ll get back to them in November, or that we may not be able to provide a certain amount and certain varieties every week,” Eastham said.

Chilean fruit also could arrive less frequently than usual, particularly on the West Coast, Eastham said.

“Containers could be hard to get,” she said. “Instead of two or three vessels per week, it could be one or two.”



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