With normal volumes and few weather issues for Central American and Caribbean crops through the first week of December, commerce was influencing the winter deal as much as nature.
A new partnership or facility here, a consolidation or port strike there, and the playing field shifted a bit.
Homestead, Fla.-based Fresh King is extending availability of avocados after a September merger with Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic-based grower-shipper Agroindustria Ocoeña. Instead of stopping with the Florida deal in January, Fresh King will go from June through April.
“It’s not a seasonal crop anymore,” said Alvaro Perpuly, general manager. He expects to see October-to-April avocado production there rise from 1.2 million to 1.5 million bushels. Perpuly credits that to friendly weather and improved tree management.
Agroindustria Ocoeña offers a proprietary green-skin variety, the Carla. It obtained a Primus certification last year. Food safety standards had been a roadblock for Dominican Republic fruit.
“We’ve been doing business for about 10 years and this year we had the opportunity to merge,” Perpuly said. Both retain their established labels and brand names.
Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., predicts a 5% rise in melon volumes out of Guatemala and Honduras. His company started shipping cantaloupes and honeydews in mid-November. Those go to May, and watermelons run January to April.
It’s a modest shift in volume. A bigger one is under way among players in the melon deal.
Plantation, Fla.-based Fresh Quest, which has downsized Honduras operations in favor of Guatemala, will have 15% less fruit overall than last year, according to Alan Guttmann, president.
Meanwhile, Pompano Beach-based Ayco Farms Inc. expects about a 30% volume increase.
Some competitors are also seeing increases, said Lou Kertesz Jr., category manager for melons.
“With the loss of production by Fresh Quest it’s probably the same amount coming in, just in different hands,” he said.
Fresh Quest planned to add Guatemala acreage for next year’s deal.
On red papayas out of Belize, Homestead-based Brooks Tropicals and Sunrise, Fla.-based Fresh Results LLC forecast volume increases of 25% to 30% over last year.
Weather damage earlier in 2012 tamed volumes into the start of winter, but demand for reds has driven more plantings year to year. Peak production is expected in March and April.
Movement of Central American pineapple imports through West Coast markets was slowed by an eight-day strike of clerical workers in late November at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For mangoes, all eyes were on Peru as December started. Central American production won’t begin until March when Costa Rica and Nicaragua come in, followed by Guatemala in April.
“What everybody’s watching is how much Peru will get out,” Jessie Capote, partner in Miami-based J&C Tropicals, said Nov. 27.
“We know it will start early, we just don’t know how fast.”
Larry Nienkerk, partner in Burlingame, Calif.-based Splendid Products, said Peru’s increase on mango volume could be as much as 20%. His packing operations there started the week of Dec. 3. The Peru deal goes to early April.
Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, offers seasonal 1- and 2-pound packages of its french beans through Christmas or New Year, depending on the retailer.
“It features a ribbon and holiday callout, a little something to remind people that french beans are perfect for holiday dinners,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.
At the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2012 in October in Anaheim, Calif., the company also introduced zippered, handled pouches for its Southern Selects sugar snap peas, french beans and brussels sprouts.
The beans are sourced in Guatemala and Baja California, Mexico. In Guatemala, sugar snap peas grow December to June.
“This year we have grown and imported more french beans than any year in the past,” Eagle said.
All crops benefited from favorable weather as winter started, he said, including fruits such as berries and limes.
Fresh Quest is in the second year of a partnership with Rosemont Farms on french beans and sugar snap peas out of Guatemala.
“It’s a value-added product, trimmed and prepacked in modified atmosphere packaging, distributed under the Rosemont label,” Guttmann said.
“We special pack it for them. It’s not a lot of volume, a couple loads a week. But one container’s worth of value-added is a potential equivalent to four loads of melons.”
J&C Tropicals’ main imports from Central America and the Caribbean are roots, including taro, yucca and Jamaican yellow yams. Capote expected good supplies for Hispanic and other shoppers this winter.
“It’s already starting to trickle in at higher volumes from now to Dec. 18,” Capote said.
“Then it will get very heavy in January and February.”
His company also does squash, including chayote out of Costa Rica.