Chilean blueberry importers expect more normal supplies, better quality and strong demand as production shifts to southern growing regions.

After a period in which volumes and quality were affected by rains, the Chilean blueberry deal was returning to normal by late January, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.

“The quality’s getting better and the volumes are good,” Koukoulis said Jan. 29. “Our programs are on track, and I don’t see any interruptions at all.”

Growers in the southern region of Chile, the source of fruit for the remainder of the season, have not battled Mother Nature to the same degree growers in the northern and central regions have, said Michael Schiro, berry and clementine category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y.

“We’re optimistic February arrivals should be much better,” he said. “We should have a nice, strong finish to the season.”

Very warm weather and clear, sunny skies have accelerated blueberry production in southern Chile, Janice Honigberg, president of Chicago-based Sun Belle Inc., said Jan. 29.

But weekly volumes will start to fall off in February, she said.

“Production is already declining starting this week and is due to decline quite rapidly going forward,” Honigberg said. “That said, we should have some production through March, with the last vessels arriving during the first half of April.”

Weekly volumes had returned to normal January levels, and Koukoulis said he expected consistent supplies until Florida takes over the deal in late March. The Chilean and Florida deals will likely overlap for about a week, not enough to create a glut, Koukoulis said.

Markets will likely weaken slightly as Chile continues to rebound from the rains, then begin climbing again in the second week of February as the season nears its final month.

“Demand seems to be high,” Koukoulis said.

On Jan. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $26 for flats of 12 1-pint cups with lids from Chile, up from $22 last year at the same time.

Schiro was optimistic that the split markets of January — higher prices for new arrivals from the south, lower prices for low-quality old fruit sold on the wholesale market — would yield to a more stable, single market in February, with prices possibly creeping up as the end of the season nears.

Schiro said he would prefer creeping up to leaping up.

“It will probably be a good, strong finish,” he said. “The key is not to jump up too quick, too soon.”

Looking ahead, warm weather in Florida has caused some early bloom, Honigberg said.

“If the weather stays warm, many Florida growing areas will begin 1-2 weeks early, towards the end of March.”