Grower-shippers and marketers anticipate strong demand and high prices for figs this season, including a newer variety expected to have marketable volume at retail.
“Although not a new variety, the tiger fig will be commercially available this year,” said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the Fresno-based California Fig Advisory Board.
Western Fresh Marketing is importing black mission figs from Chile.
“The market has been great,” said George Kragie, president of the Madera, Calif.-based company.
The California crop fills in when Chilean imports wane, but there is typically at least a brief supply gap between the two deals that most retailers have grown to expect.
“There will be a slight gap, volume will drop rapidly from Chile right about the time California gets started, in late May,” Kragie said.
Prices for fresh figs are starting at $36 for cartons of a dozen 8-ounce clamshells, sources said.
“We expect and will have to demand better pricing this year. First, the crop is quite manageable, but, more importantly, the inventories of dried figs are at an all-time low,” Kragie said in late April.
The price for dried figs is at historic levels, Kragie said, and with 95% of the harvested crop going to the dried market, that and other factors will likely affect the fresh fig market.
“Secondly, the cost of labor, packing material and food safety are again going up,” Kragie said.
“I would expect this may affect the amount of figs picked for the fresh market.”
“Due to increasing overhead costs, we expect prices to be slightly up from last year,” Stockli said.
Western Fresh added 40 acres of organic tiger, sierra and black mission figs last year, upping its total Coachella Valley production to 160 acres.
Many other California fig growers added acreage last year with the recent trend of rising prices and increasing demand.
Kevin Herman, owner and president of Madera, Calif.-based The Specialty Crop Co., said the first crop should peak at the end of May, while the main crop should hit peak volume in the middle of August.
Herman said he expects volumes to be typical, with good demand for the tiger variety.
Last year, The Specialty Crop Co. offered limited production of the variety but will have more this year.
While sources say it is too early to know what the quality and size of the crop will be like, Kragie said he expects good quality.
“The demand for fresh figs has been growing every year. We find more and more consumer acceptance. The fig is coming into its own, no longer just a fruit in a cookie,” Kragie said.
“Figs are being mentioned in a number of cooking shows and food publications. But the taste of a fig drives the demand.”
Western Fresh plans to start the season in Coachella in late May and then transition to eastern Kern County by mid-June. Central San Joaquin Valley production follows.
“The breva crop, the matured and ripened buds from last season, looks better than last year. We expect a good main crop as well. Pricing will determine what is shipped fresh crop,” Kragie said.