(Sept. 12, 2:20 p.m.) Chilean fresh fruit exports to the U.S. dropped by 10% during the 2007-08 season, with a corresponding bump up in shipments to Europe, but many U.S. importers are looking to the future with optimism.
Although the annual analysis by Santiago, Chile-based Decofrut showed significant volume drops for table grapes, avocados and red apples to the U.S., some importers said cold weather limited production, and programs will be on track this season.
At the same time, the weakness of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, cited often by exporters as a hindrance to the U.S. market, isn’t as critical an issue, with more favorable rates.
“The (volume) decrease that they have experienced is because of Mother Nature. They had a major freeze last year, and it hurt the avocado deal. There were a lot of variables that were not controlled by man but by nature,” said Craig Uchizono, vice president of Southern Hemisphere for Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles. Giumarra is a major importer of avocados, table grapes, stone fruits and blueberries.
“In our berry and avocado division we have seen a constant growth, and we also continue to see grape and stone programs solidified,” Uchizono said.
Robert Verloop, Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC vice president of marketing, said demand for Chilean produce has increased and that shipments are growing in conventional and organic programs.
“We continue to see a very positive marketplace for Chilean products,” Verloop said. “The demand has not subsided at all, especially with our organic blueberries,” he said.
Gerry Smirniotis, vice president for the East Coast and stone fruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group, said on Sept. 10 the stone fruit crop has seen good dormancy and pollination, which bodes well for the coming season.
Smirniotis predicts that U.S. markets will welcome Chilean grapes on a timely manner, unlike last year when the crop was delayed until January.
“We are also anticipating a good season for Chilean grapes, in terms of quality, volume and timing — unlike last year, when the entire industry weathered a delay of nearly a month,” Smirniotis said.
Dimming European enthusiasm?
While many exporters have credited high fuel costs and the weakening of the dollar as primary reasons for cashing in on the European market, the past season might not have been as favorable as they had originally hoped.
David Schiro, president of Yonkers, N.Y.-based importer Jac Vandenberg Inc., one of the leading importers of Chilean fruit, said the jump in exports to Europe saturated that market during the past season.