As the avocado market has gone global, outside factors such as currency exchange rates, country preferences and even domestic consumption play a role in how much exported fruit reaches the U.S.
Such is the case with Chilean avocados, where growing domestic demand consumes about half of the crop and Europe is viewed as a preferred export market, said Dave Fausset, sales and category manager for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.
Because of that, Chilean avocado importers expect this year’s imports to be about half the size of last year’s.
“What happens with Chile is they provide a lot of fruit to Europe. Along with Peru, they’re big suppliers,” he said.
“With a smaller crop where Europe is kind of the preferred market and Chilean consumption continues to rise at a high rate, U.S. markets are less preferred just because of the other factors. (Chile has) found their own market in Europe and it’s more of a niche.”
Although no official crop estimate had been issued as of early September, several importers said they think about 60 million pounds of Chilean avocados will be imported into the U.S. for the 2014-15 season.
That compares to about 115 million pounds during the 2013-14 season — 361% more than in 2012-13, said Juan Enrique Lazo, general manager of the Santiago-based Chilean Hass Avocado Committee.
Chilean fruit will begin to trickle into the U.S. market in September as California and Peru exit for the season. What volume there is will tide retailers over until Mexico cranks up shipments.
“California will be done and Peru should be — if not done — down to very low levels,” said Dana Thomas, president of Riverside, Calif.-based Index Fresh Inc.
“We think Chile will come in and fill a window that California and Peru fruit is leaving behind and before Mexico ramps up. We think by the end of September the market will have Mexican fruit in it and Chilean fruit.”
Gary Caloroso, marketing director for Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International, agreed.
“Chile will once again serve an important role for the avocado industry as they will supply steady volume to the U.S. this fall and winter,” he said.
“Combined with Mexico product, we believe there will be promotable volume that will meet the ever-increasing demand of avocados across the country.”
Regardless of the crop size, Chilean fruit is looked upon favorably by importers because of its quality and for providing consistently dependable programs for customers.
“We find it’s a nice complement to the Mexican deal, and it also allows us to have more than one offering for some customers,” Thomas said.
Lazo said because of drier growing conditions, Chilean avocados tend to have high oil content and a long shelf life.
Since the Chilean crop is smaller this year, he said growers and exporters won’t be in a rush to ship.
“On the contrary, it will be beneficial for the U.S. consumers because they will get consistent good and high oil-content fruit. And good for our growers,” Lazo said.
Much of the Chilean fruit that Index Fresh brings in goes to West Coast retailers who also prefer California avocados, Thomas said. But a handful of East Coast retailers will receive Chilean fruit, too.
“That has to do with their familiarity and long history with the product as well as their proximity to the ports,” he said.
Mission Produce expects to bring in minimal volumes from Chile this season, with the fruit reserved for key retail accounts in the Northeast, Fausset said.
“Chile will just have some fill-in volume this year for a few programs,” he said. “They want to stay in the U.S. even in a short crop year. They want to maintain a presence for following years if they have larger crops.”
Overall, the West Coast receives the largest volume of Chilean fruit — 70% — followed by the East Coast with 25% and west-central U.S. (Texas), 5%, Lazo said.
Mission Produce also is a 50% partner with Cabilfruit in the Cabildo District about 109 miles northwest of Santiago. Much like California, that region has been hit by severe drought, resulting in lighter volumes, Fausset said.