Many importers of Chilean stone fruit expect plum and nectarine volumes to hold steady and peach volumes to fall.
“So far the impression we’re getting is that the growing conditions are good,” said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y. “It looks like it’s going to be a good year.”
Vandenberg expects to import about 1 million boxes of Chilean stone fruit this season, he said.
Some peaches and nectarines from Chile will begin arriving by air in December, Padover said. For the most part, though, Vandenberg likes to wait until January, when better varieties are available, to begin bringing fruit in from Chile in volume, he said.
“We try to keep the volumes relatively modest in December.”
New varieties — including the nectarine and the magique — should increase demand for Chilean nectarines, though volumes of new French and Israeli varieties will be modest this season, Padover said.
“We received a handful last year and they were absolutely gorgeous, but it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “There’s no critical mass yet.”
Vandenberg expects to have peaches and nectarines from Chile through March, and plums through April, Padover said.
Vandenberg also will be bringing in more white-flesh plums this year, but those volumes also will be modest, Padover said. Black ambers, sapphires,
angelinos and other industry standards will continue to make up the bulk of the company’s plum volumes.
The trend in Chilean stone fruit shipments to North America is more nectarines and plums and fewer peaches, Padover said.
“You have to have peaches, but they’re a real challenge,” he said.
Preconditioning does help maintain quality, however, and Vandenberg also is looking at new kinds of packaging to help ensure Chilean peaches are marketed under the best possible conditions.
That said, there’s only so much shippers and importers can do.
“I think where the growth will be is in nectarines and plums,” Padover said.
On apricots, meanwhile, Padover is hoping for a significant bump from last season, when North American markets received just 140,000 boxes.
“It was a significant decrease — the market could have used more,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get some more this season.”
That said, the Chilean apricot deal is not an easy one for Chilean growers or for U.S. importers, who often wind up feeling frustrated at season’s end, Padover said.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “There are very strict requirements to ship from Chile, and a lot of very frustrated growers and importers.”
Lake Success, N.Y.-based William H. Kopke Jr. Inc. expected to begin receiving Chilean stone fruit by mid-December, said Peter Kopke, the company’s president.
Industry-wide volumes may not be up this season, but Kopke expects to import more, Kopke said.
Rain in mid-October and more rain forecast for later in the fall likely will have the biggest effect on cherries, but Chilean stone fruit also could be affected, said Josh Leichter, general manager of Reedley, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC.
“Stone fruit will likely be impacted to a slightly less degree,” Leichter said.
Pacific Trellis’s Chilean stone fruit program this season will be tilted most heavily toward plums, followed by nectarines, then peaches, Leichter said.
Peaches are No. 3 on that list for a reason, Leichter said, though shippers and importers continue to work hard to find ways to send the highest-quality fruit to market.
“The key is to keep current with varieties, and to understand that each variety has a relatively short window,” he said. “Some who stick to that have pretty good success.”
Nathel International, Pittsgrove, N.J., expects to begin receiving Chilean stone fruit in mid-December, said Paul Newstead, director and vice president of sales and marketing.
Shipments should continue into April.
“We’re heavier into plums, but we do a fair percentage of peaches and nectarines,” he said. “We’re fairly representative of the industry as a whole.”
It’s an industry, Newstead points out, that in 2011-12 imported about as many plums from Chile as peaches and nectarines combined.