(Jan. 14) Chinese New Year could limit access to some supplies, but grower-shippers and importers look forward to strong demand for a range of fruits and vegetables to usher in the Year of the Rat.

The holiday falls on Feb. 7 this year, a few weeks earlier than Chris Ciruli, partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC, Nogales, Ariz., would like.

“You like to see Chinese New Year late,” he said. “When it’s in late February, you get some Champagne (ataulfo) mangoes with the vegetables.”

While mangoes won’t be in the mix this year, Ciruli is bullish on demand for the kabocha squash it sources from the Los Mochis region of Mexico and its Chinese eggplant grown in Culiacan.

“Right around Christmas, Chinese eggplant was $10,” Ciruli said. “Today it’s $24. Last year it got into the mid-30s, and this year should be very similar to last.”

SUPER BOWL OUT OF THE WAY

Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., had a different take on the timing of Chinese New Year 2008.

“It’s after the Super Bowl this year, which means it doesn’t have to conflict with Super Bowl retail promotions,” he said.

After Feb. 3, the date of the big game, Chinese New Year can have a corner of the produce department all to itself, Schueller said. Many holiday promotions should last through Feb. 14, he predicted.

World Variety, which markets specialty fruits and vegetables under the Melissa’s brand name, expects to move ample volumes of bok choy, ginger, snow peas, lemon grass, asian pears and other Asian items for Chinese New Year, Schueller said.

World Variety has had several months to find alternative sources for ginger, he said. Exports from China were halted earlier this year because of food-safety concerns. World Variety plans to pull from Hawaii and Brazil to meet demand for Chinese New Year this year.

“We see 10-15% growth every year,” Schueller said. “It’s a great chance for retailers to build their category. In January and February, a lot of people are acting on their New Year’s resolutions to eat more produce.”

INCREASED DEMAND

Demand for Asian vegetables continues to go up every year, Ciruli said. In California, for example, the big coastal cities have long carried a full line of Asian vegetables, he said. Now, however, the Safeways and Save-Marts in inland places like Fresno and Modesto also stock them, he said.

And that year-round demand can double around Chinese New Year on certain items, Ciruli said.

Low temperatures after Christmas in Mexico could delay some production of Asian vegetables, Ciruli said, but it should pick up by mid- January.

Apple exports to South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and mainland China are about 20% higher in anticipation of Chinese New Year, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager at Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash. Higher export demand could raise domestic prices 1% to 2%, Queen said.

Chinese New Year, Super Bowl promos planned
PRICES
Bok choy: WGA crates shipped from California’s central coast ran $10.55-11.75 the second week of January, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 30-pound cartons ranged $7.15-7.75. Product from California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys and Mexican product crossing through Calexico and San Luis ranged $11.75-12.65 for WGA crates and $7.35-8.65 for 30-pound cartons. Quality was reported as good.