Demand for Chilean blueberries has been growing for several years, and Mother Nature will likely play a role in making it extra-strong early this season, importers and industry officials say.

Because of the September freezes and subsequent drop in volume early in the season, demand should be strong for Chilean blueberries this season, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.

“Pricing will come down some from now, because it’s crazy high, but it will be higher in December and January than it’s been in the past two or three years,” Bocock said in mid-October.

That shouldn’t cause buyers or consumers to panic, however, Bocock said. Shelves will be filled with Chilean blueberries.

“Fruit will be around for retailers.”

Demand at the beginning of the Chilean season could depend on what happened in Argentina, which also was hit hard by the September freezes.

Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., said the Argentinian blueberry deal typically gets underway in late September or early October.

This season, because of the freezes, it’s more likely to be late October or early November, Bowe said. Of course, Chile is similarly delayed.

“Argentina will have to pull the weight through November,” he said.

Chile will likely begin to take over the import blueberry deal in December, Bowe said, but it will likely be slow going through the end of the year.

In fact, for the balance of 2013, most blueberries from Chile and Argentina will enter the U.S. by plane, not boat, Bowe said.

That will likely be felt in dollars and cents, he said.

“There’s a very good possibility we could have high prices through the end of the year.”

As to whether retailers and consumers will be turned off by limited availability and high prices, Bowe said he doubts it. Supplies may be lighter, Bowe said, but they should be steady.

“Demand should be good in January,” when more product comes on, he said.

With new growers and added acreage this season, Dave’s Specialty Imports still expects to see a production boost this season, despite the freezes, Bowe said.

The September freezes won’t chill demand, said Karen Brux, North American managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.

“We expect demand for blueberries to be stronger than ever this year,” Brux said. “Consumers are increasingly seeing blueberries as a ‘must have’ produce item. Consumption has grown from 414 million pounds in 2005 to 853 million pounds in 2011.”

There are no signs of that growth stopping anytime soon, Brux said.

“We foresee continued growth for the coming years,” she said. “Blueberries have a great story to tell — convenient, great tasting and healthy — so the key is communicating all the key messages through retail, consumer and foodservice programs. Between the efforts of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and the Chilean Blueberry Committee, there are strong promotions being carried out on a year-round basis.”