Demand for Peruvian asparagus may not be quite as strong as a year ago, but importers and officials still look forward to brisk movement.

Gourmet Trading Co., Redondo Beach, Calif., expects 2014 industry-wide volumes to be slightly down from 2013 — closer to 2012 volumes, said Chloe Varennes, marketing manager.

“Last year in 2013 we actually saw an increase in fresh production of about 6%,” Varennes said. “However, we expect this increase to adjust down for 2014.”

Demand could be down but movement should be goodThe 2013 boost, Varennes, was due less to a production increase and more to an increase in demand for fresh product relative to frozen and processing demand.

That’s unlikely to repeat in 2014.

“We should see a slight decrease of about 4% or 5% in total fresh asparagus production,” Varennes said.

Despite the expected industry decline, Gourmet Trading is looking forward to another season of strong demand for its Peruvian asparagus, Varennes said.

“From 2012 to 2013 our Peru program grew by 15%, and we want this trend to continue.”

A 15% growth rate may not be possible again in 2014, but the company does plan to keep expanding its Peruvian program, Varennes said.

Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, expects brisk movement during the 2014 Peruvian season, which should peak from August through January 2015.

“Demand for Peruvian asparagus is steady,” Lleras said. “Retailers and foodservice are consistently looking for quality, and Peru definitely brings quality to the retailers’ shelves — and ultimately to the consumers’ tables.”

One key to keeping demand strong for Peruvian asparagus, Lleras said, is for importers to work closely with buyers on displaying a wide array of product — while at the same time ensuring that only the best product ships.

“Variety — green, white and purple — and consistency of quality within the Peruvian brand offer the retailer, foodservice (purveyor) and their customers with a number of options.”

Eduardo Campos, director of Miami-based Crowley Fresh, a division of Crowley Maritime Corp. that provides third-party cold storage and perishable logistics to importers, also expected another season of brisk movement of Peruvian asparagus, which should begin arriving in peak volume in August.

“Prices have been solid through the summer, and hopefully that demand will continue.”

Nine million cases of Peruvian asparagus will likely ship this year, comparable to last year, Campos said.

The 2014 Peruvian season didn’t exactly kick off with a bang, said Jeff Friedman, president of Pompano Beach-based CarbAmericas Inc.

“So far, from June to right now, Peru has been very slow — movement, volumes, demand,” Friedman said June 26. “It’s been very lackluster.”

That hasn’t always been the case for early summer to mid-summer, Friedman said. In the past, June and July have often been strong months for Peruvian asparagus sales in the U.S.

“It’s often been in the low to mid-20s in past years,” he said.

On July 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of A plethora of asparagus from other sources this season has been one reason for the sluggish movement.

“With Mexico, Michigan, Canada, a little Jersey, the tail end of Washington, it didn’t work out too well for Peru,” Friedman said. “This year everything turned out nicely for all the growing areas.”

It can be hard for Peru to compete with Mexico when Mexican product is cheaper, Friedman said.

“Buyers aren’t going to pay $18.50-19 for product they can buy at $16-17.”

Peru shippers have, however, gotten better at developing new markets in Asia, Brazil, Australia and other parts of the world, Friedman said.

Often those markets will pay more than U.S. markets will, he said. The problem is finding enough mouths to keep demand stoked.

“U.S. consumption is still far greater than anywhere else, other than China.”

Record asparagus supplies from Mexico for Robinson Fresh, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., combined with abundant volumes from domestic sources, has kept demand fairly light in the first part of summer, said Joe Dugo, Robinson Fresh senior category representative.

But that will likely change.

“As domestic production finishes in late June, the volume from Peru will likely increase due to the demand in the market,” Dugo said.