Shipments of Chilean and Mexican avocados will continue to increase, with importers expecting strong demand and promotable supplies.

Heading into the Chilean and Mexican avocado seasons, the forecast was for big volumes, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

That prediction held true in August, Wedin said, but by September, shipments had slowed. In Mexico, extreme drought was the cause for the lower-than-expected volumes, he said. And for Chile, it was a case of getting out of the gate too fast, and suffering through plummeting prices.

“It got off to a great start, then slowed to a crawl the first two weeks of September,” he said.

By the third week of September, however, things were stabilizing, Wedin said.

“The Chilean harvest program is much more realistic now,” he said Sept. 21.

On Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $36.25 for two-layer cartons of size-40 hass avocados from Chile, up from $30.25-32.25 last year at the same time.

Movement was strong in mid-September due to aggressive retail and foodservice promotions, said Avi Crane, president of Prime Produce International LLC, Orange, Calif.

Mexican volumes should steadily rise throughout the fall, Wedin said. The week of Sept. 14, Mexican weekly ship-ments were up 35% over the week before. Chilean volumes, after they stabilized following the too-fast start, would also likely begin to rise steadily.

The week of Sept. 22, 63% of avocados imported to the U.S. were coming from Chile and 31% from Mexico, Crane said.

“This week’s a little short, but people now are thinking there’s some hope,” Wedin said. “It looks like (supplies are ) more dependable and promotable.”

In the coming weeks, Wedin predicted, import supplies would be  15% higher on average than last year at the same time. In January, February and March, they could be up 20-25%, he said.

Weekly volumes from Chile and Mexico could be too low to meet U.S. demand through the rest of 2009, Crane said.

Prices on size 48 fruit and smaller will likely continue to fall before leveling off sometime in early October, Wedin predicted. Prices for size 60 and larger fruit, which had been very low, were coming up in the second half of September, he said.

Supplies of 60s and smaller were declining by the week of Sept. 21, as growers in Chile and Mexico focused on picking larger fruit, Crane said. 

When it came to quality, importers “were on pins and needles” early in the deal, but by mid-September, quality had “come a long way,” Wedin said. Quality won’t likely peak on Mexican and Chilean fruit until late October, he said, after which consumers will enjoy four months of high-quality imports.