Freezes early and droughts later on will hamper volumes of Chilean clementines.

How much the freezes affected clementine production remained largely an unanswered question as late as the first half of April, said James Milne, citrus category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Milne said. “Everybody’s in the same boat. It’s been a difficult season down there, and volume and size have definitely been affected.”

One figure being thrown around in April was up to a 30% volume reduction for the 2014 season, Milne said.

Oppy also is concerned about too much small fruit, but quality shouldn’t be an issue this year.

“Most of the growers say the externals are fine,” Milne said. “They haven’t seen the effects of wind, and blemish-wise, they should be all right.”

While Oppy hasn’t had confirmation of the Chilean season’s start date, Milne said the first containers from some growing regions could begin arriving in the first week of May.

Fruit from the San Felipe and other southern growing regions Oppy sources from could enter the North American market by the third week of May, he said.

Oppy expects to wrap up its Chilean clementine deal at the end of July, at which point the company will shift its attention to Chilean murcotts, Milne said.

Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Capespan North America LLC, St. Laurent, Quebec, said Capespan expects its first arrivals of Chilean clementines in early June.

Volumes will be lighter than usual at the beginning of the season, Greenberg said.

“With drought conditions and a resulting light crop, we expect the market to be chronically short of clementines through most of June,” he said.

Looking at the deal as a whole, Greenberg predicts that overall volumes will be down come season’s end. It’s not the fall freezes, which were devastating to many Chilean fruit crops, that’s primarily to blame.

“We expect to see industry volumes decline from last year, which was itself a short clementine season,” he said. “The freeze in September had some impact, but the real culprit is the drought affecting many growing regions.”

As summer progresses, however, other growing regions will help Chile fill the pipeline.

“July should see greater volumes arrive, with product from both Chile and South Africa.”

One silver lining to the Chilean season is that color, condition, eating quality and size profile weren’t likely affected by the drought or freezes, Greenberg said.

Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International expects to receive its first Chilean clementines from the Vicuna and Ovalle districts at the end of May, said Peter Anderson, imported citrus category manager.

“The crop is earlier than normal and we expect first arrival from the Vicuna/Ovalle districts at the end of May.”

Volumes for clementines are expected to be down some because of severe drought in northern growing regions.

“(It’s) limited water supplies for not only production, but some orchards have been lost or abandoned,” Anderson said.

In the central growing districts, meanwhile, the September freezes has cut into volumes.

“In addition, the sizing in all districts will be small, likely peaking on 36s,” Anderson said. “Condition and eating quality should be excellent.”

Matt Gordon, Chilean program manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., said after a slow start, the Chilean deal should return to normal by midseason.

“Volumes will be down with small sizing for the early arrivals, and stable for the mid- to late periods,” he said. “Our plan is to be up on clems from Chile and South Africa.”

DNE expects to begin receiving fruit about May 5, 10 days earlier than last season. In mid-April, one of DNE’s shipper partners in Chile was already reporting brix readings of 11 and 12 on early clementines.

DNE plans to bring in clementines and satsumas in May, followed by navels in late June.

Another factor that should bode well for the Chilean deal this year is exchange rates, said Karen Brux, North American managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.

“The current exchange rate is very positive for exports to this market,” Brux said. “Just a year ago, one U.S. dollar was the equivalent of about 470 Chilean pesos, but the U.S. dollar is now equal to 557 pesos as of April 16.”

Exchange rates will always affect to some degree where fruit is sent, but it’s just one factor, Brux said.

Overall, she said Chilean shippers and importers are looking forward to another good season.

“Chilean citrus growers continue to invest in North America because this has proven to be a strong year-round market for citrus, and with the merchandising system we have in place, we’re able to work hand in hand with retailers across the U.S. and Canada on promotions specific to Chilean citrus, whether clementines, navels or murcotts,” she said.

“North American retailers are responding positively to Chilean citrus, so we’re giving them the marketing support to drive sales in their stores.”

Brux said she believed consumers will find a consistent eating experience when the deal switches from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere citrus.

“The exponential growth of Southern Hemisphere citrus certainly supports this,” she said. “Consumers are buying it, enjoying it and coming back for more.”