Garlic shippers and marketers reported brisk sales of imported and domestic product, even though prices had spiked in a year’s time.

On July 26, 30-pound cartons of jumbo white garlic from California were $56 on the Atlanta terminal market.

Similar product from China was $43-47. At the same point in 2009, the same product from California was selling for $35. Chinese garlic was $18-21.

“The market has been screaming high for most of the spring and summer,” said Ian Zimmerman, operations manager for South Hackensack, N.J.-based Maurice A. Auerbach Inc.

“We haven’t seen much back off in prices.”

Zimmerman said he could only speculate why the market had persisted at such high levels.

“We’re surprised it stayed up this high this long, but it looks to continue to go forward at these levels based on the information we have out of China that their new crop is short, not of great quality and size and looks like it’s going to keep garlic high.”

Zimmerman and other shippers said that supplies out of China had been shorter this year than last, which may have contributed to the strong market.

“China was a little shorter than they expected to be, due to internal market using more,” Zimmerman said.

Other factors likely played roles too, Zimmerman added.

“When that market started going up, Argentina didn’t have a huge yield of garlic, and what did also called for good money,” he said.

“As we got to the end of the current Chinese season, we saw prices go from last July, in the $14-15 range. So, now, you’re looking at costs double-plus.”

The market had been rising steadily since the fall of 2009, Zimmerman said.

“November started into the $20s, and we said, ‘OK, it will go up a little bit,’” Zimmerman said.

“All of a sudden, we got to maybe mid- to end of May and they jumped to $25 to $27. In June, the cost went crazy into the $30s. It just doesn’t look like any major signs of it backing off right now.”

The high prices have not discouraged consumption, Zimmerman said.

“I think we’ve got a situation where consumers have gotten used to using fresh garlic, whether in its whole bulb or peeled state,” he said.

“People are obviously enjoying using fresh garlic, because demand is very, very strong.”

China continues to be a year-round supplier, with California garlic running most of the year, Zimmerman said. Mexico and Argentina ship products for about three and six months, respectively.

Louis Hymel III, director of purchasing and marketing at Orlando, Fla.-based Spice World Inc. agreed there was no way to predict where the garlic market would go.

“It’s at a record high right now, and there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what’s going on in the market,” he said.

“They’re harvesting and packing in California, but the real impact is what’s happening in China.”

Garlic’s versatility, along with some value-added options, are helping to feed its sales growth, according to several grower-shippers.

“Fresh garlic, with skins on it, is fairly steady business year in, year out,” said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing with Gilroy, Calif.-based grower-shipper Christopher Ranch.

“I’d say the peeled garlic continues to grow both at retail and foodservice. Also, garlic has an increased interest at the ingredient level, where a soup or salad company wants to use garlic as a flavoring component.”

Fresh garlic also has developed a strong following at retail and in foodservice, she added.

“In years past, it pretty much was a dehydrated powder if they wanted,” Ross said.

“A lot of food processors have discovered they can use less garlic as fresh.”