In mid-December, supplies of Argentinian blueberries were winding down and Chile was preparing to take over the deal, said Brian Bocock, vice president of sales for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.
Good quality from both regions was translating into brisk demand in the U.S., said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc.
“Both Argentina and Chile are doing well,” Bowe said Dec. 13.
Bocock expects a mostly smooth transition, with some small gaps in late December possible as Argentina ended and before Chile’s January peak.
U.S. retailers were gearing up for aggressive promotions of high-quality fruit in January and February.
“We’re pretty excited about the next 45 days,” Bocock said Dec. 13. “Demand is very strong. Chile hasn’t had any significant weather events. The quality looks very good.”
Prices are likely to fall in January because of the greater Chilean volumes, something the industry is preparing for, Bocock said.
“A lot of retailers have already jumped on it” with ads planned for the New Year, he said.
On Dec. 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $30-32 for flats of 12 1-pint medium and large blueberries from Chile, comparable to last year at the same time.
Mid-December prices were as strong as they’ve been in some time, Bowe said. That’s good news for Argentinian growers, who have been burned by unfavorable markets the past two or three years.
Bowe said Argentina has done a good job of reigning in volumes this season to keep markets strong. When Chile takes over the deal, prices should fall, especially since volumes should rise this season.
“There’s more product from Chile than anticipated,” he said.
Weekly volumes for Naturipe during the Chilean peak in January and February will likely be similar to last season, with a slight increase possible, Bocock said.
Strong processing demand for Chilean blueberries will check the flow of fresh-market berries somewhat, he said.
Pints will be the packaging option of choice for Chilean product shipping in January and February, though 6-ounce packs will still be available, Bocock said.
More and more customers want to make the switch from smaller packs to pints before Jan. 1, Bowe said.
“This week many switched to pints,” he said the week of Dec. 12. “Everybody’s trying to get a head start.”