As of mid-January, estimates projected industry-wide losses of 64% for Chilean peaches, 59% for nectarines and 63% for plums, said Evan Myers, director of South American imports for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
Those overall numbers were tracking closely to the declines in volumes of those fruits shipped to the U.S. thus far this season, but Myers said it was hard to predict how big the overall declines in U.S. shipments would be by season’s end.
Fruit slated for other markets, for instance, could wind up in the U.S. instead.
“The prices are very good in the U.S., and it’s only a 12-day voyage,” Myers said. “Some fruit that was going to Asia or Europe might go to the U.S.”
On Jan. 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $28-30 for two-layer tray packs of peaches and nectarines 40s from Chile, up from $22-24 last year at the same time.
Depending on the variety, Chilean stone fruit losses will likely be in the 45-65% range this season, said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Yonkers, N.Y.-based Jac Vandenberg Inc.
Losses were heaviest early in the deal, Padover said, and Vandenberg was cautiously optimistic that weekly volumes will tick up later in the season.
“The challenge is convincing retailers to include (Chilean stone fruit) in their order guides and merchandising plans,” he said. “We’re strongly encouraging our core customers to stay with their programs.”
Chilean nectarine and plum production should pick up later in the season, but peaches are more of a “maybe,” said Steve Pearson, salesman for Los Angeles-based Bengard Marketing.
“We’re hopeful to have some February and March promotions on nectarines, and at some point on plums,” Pearson said. “Peaches we can’t quite put our finger on yet.”
Losses as of Jan. 13 were in the 30-60% range, depending on the commodity, Pearson said.
Despite the steep volume declines this season, there will be fruit to promote in late January and February as peaches, nectarines and plums all will be shipping from Chile at the same time, Myers said.
“We’ve seen historically high prices in January, but they’ll probably settle down in February,” he said. “There will definitely be fruit to sell.”
The quality of stone fruit shipping to the U.S. in January was very good, and because of the natural thinning process of the freezes, sizing was considerably larger than usual, Myers said.