Turner said with blueberries, a key driver of growth in the berry category, retailers are eager to bring in more product.
With that in mind, Giumarra plans to bring in more containers to the East Coast and has chartered planes from the northern province of Tucuman to both Los Angeles and Miami. Giumarra is also growing and exporting from Concordia, San Luis and Buenos Aires provinces.
For those who do not have the specially chartered cargo planes, more uncertainty persists.
Dave Bowe, owner of Dave’s Specialty Imports, Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., believes air space will be tight and the requirement to fumigate blueberries before they fly will continue to cause quality and logistical challenges.
“The real problem is planes; there is not sufficient space,” he said. “Then, fumigation, fumigation, fumigation, especially at 70 degrees.”
Bowe said the principal challenge with flying is that the cost is always $3.50-4 higher per case than ocean vessels.
Suppliers are still utilizing ocean vessels primarily as pilot programs, given what many in the industry believe to be the high uncertainty of maintaining the USDA-required cold treatment for unfumigated produce from Argentina.
“There will be more boat shipments out of Argentina, and there is some concern because you have to do fumigation first,” said Robert Verloop, vice president of marketing. “We will airfreight as much of our fruit as possible, and in those situations where we have fruit that is best suited for boat, we will do a limited amount of that.”
Verloop said people like to ship out of Argentina on ocean vessels to save money, but the result may be poor quality.
“If your end result is product that goes into cheap markets, that’s not good,” he said.
Barsi agreed the cold treatment method is “very tricky.”
“It is important to have the optimum conditions in order for the fruit to arrive in proper condition,” he said. “Temperature control, along with transit time and suitable varieties are key, since only a few varieties perform best with this mode of transportation.”
Janice Honigberg, president of Sun Belle Inc., Washington, D.C., said she believes although there will be “no problem with space” this year, some suppliers may refuse to use boat shipments because of the uncertainty of keeping the cold chain or the risk of quality problems when berries are fumigated first, then have to endure an ocean voyage of more than two weeks.