Early-season Peruvian asparagus shipments to the U.S. have been slowed by less-than-ideal growing weather.
After a slow start to the season, the deal should begin to ramp up as summer progresses and domestic deals wane, said Jeff Friedman, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based CarbAmericas Inc.
“After the Fourth (of July) things should start to turn around for Peru,” he said.
As of late June, however, Peru was still biding its time while other growing areas, flush from excellent growing conditions, continued to ship in volume.
“Growers in Peru are asking us to take product but the f.o.b.s they want do not reflect the prices in the U.S.,” Friedman said. “Europe is paying a premium. There’s good demand there, but they can’t take the volume.”
The quality and size profile of the 2014 Peruvian crop was largely unknown as of the end of June, thanks to lower volumes than usual coming in due to a saturated market, Friedman said.
“It’s still to be determined,” Friedman said. “It was a warm winter for them. They had some of the Niña effect. Volumes were affected a little bit.”
At the beginning of July CarbAmericas was sourcing from Northern Peru, where the growing weather had not been ideal, Friedman said.
But that was mitigated by the sluggish demand for Peruvian product in the U.S.
“The weather’s been cloudy there, and it’s hurt production. But it doesn’t matter, because there’s no demand.”
Going forward, Friedman sees Peru supplying the Northeast and the rest of the East Coast and Mexico handling demand in the Western U.S.
Volumes should peak in October and November this year, Friedman said.
Peruvian shipments for Robinson Fresh, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide, should begin in August, peak in September and October, then decline in late December or early January, said Joe Dugo, the company’s senior category representative.
Peruvian asparagus volumes rose 10% in 2013 over 2012, and Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, expects another strong year in 2014.
“The trend for peak volumes begins in August, steadily increases in September and goes through January,” Lleras said.
Volumes should begin to decline in February 2015 before tapering off for the season in April, she said.
In its second year as a third-party cold storage and perishables logistics provider for Peruvian asparagus importers, Miami-based Crowley Fresh, a division of Crowley Maritime Corp. is adding organic certification, said Eduardo Campos, the company’s director.
Organic certification should be completed by the end of July, Campos said, just in time for the heart of the Peruvian season.
Because of fumigation requirements, however, the only organic asparagus Crowley Fresh would likely handle would be organic white asparagus.
Cool weather in Peru’s Ica growing region was limiting supplies in the first part of summer, but it’s not unusual for peak volumes to wait to begin arriving until August, Campos said.
Crowley Fresh expects to handle Peruvian asparagus through the end of the year.
Asparagus is exported from Peru to the U.S. year-round, said Chloe Varennes, marketing manager for Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Gourmet Trading Co.
But certain months are busier than others.
“Volume started to increase the first week of April, in conjunction with Caborca, Mexico’s decline in production,” Varennes said. “And volume is expected to increase moving forward.”
That increase, could be slower to develop this season.
“We might see a stagnant July in terms of volume, because it’s one of the coldest months in Peru, “ Varennes said. “But we should see better numbers starting in August.”
Temperatures start improving in August, Varennes said. In addition, growers in the Ica growing region reopen their fields.
This year’s Peru’s production curve is expected to follow the same trend as last year, she said, with peaks in late September through early November.
“It should be a typical year, barring any weather or unexpected events.”
That said, weather is the big unknown this year, Varennes said.
“According to the Climate Prediction Center and Research Institute for Climate, among others, El Niño is expected to hit South America in the last quarter of the year,” she said.
El Niño will make itself known at some point this year, Varennes said. The question is how much it will affect Peruvian asparagus exports.
“A strong El Niño could devastate northern Peru as the warm temperatures and rain could damage the quality of the asparagus,” she said July 3. “Over the last two weeks temperatures in the north of Peru have cooled down, and some growers are hoping this is an indication of a weak El Niño.”
But it’s too early to know that with any certainty, she said.
“We’ll just have to monitor El Niño very closely over the next couple of months.”
Logistics also can be a challenge for Peruvian importers, Varennes said.
“Peru moves close to 90% of its exports to the states via air, and the industry always runs into freight problems during the peak months. Airfreight should follow the same up and down pattern of previous years.”
To help mitigate the effects of those ups and downs, Gourmet Trading has strong alliances with airlines that transport asparagus through its forwarder partner, Fresh Peru Logistics, Varennes said.