Severe weather at the beginning of the season likely will leave its mark on the 2013-14 Chilean blueberry deal.
Chilean blueberries were slated to begin shipping about Nov. 4, said Cindy Jewell, marketing director for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms.
That could change, though, based on how a string of September freezes affects the blueberry deal. That also goes for whatever else Mother Nature has up her sleeve.
“It’s always a roll of the dice,” Jewell said.
If the Nov. 4 forecast holds, volumes should begin picking up by Nov. 18, with the deal really hitting its stride in December, she said.
Some growers may have lost up to 70% of their blueberry crop to the freeze, others as little as 5%, said Nolan Quinn, berry category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
One grower, Quinn said, suffered zero losses.
As of mid-October, it appeared the only effect on the 2013-14 crop would be volume-related, Quinn said. However, that could change as the deal progresses.
“We don’t know enough about the size of the fruit.”
Oppenheimer expected its first arrivals of Chilean blueberries by air in late November, with vessels following in mid-December.
That’s not far off from a more typical year, with one exception, Quinn said.
“It’s similar timing, just less volume.”
Demand at the beginning of the Chilean deal could depend largely on Chile’s eastern neighbor, also hit hard by the September freezes, Quinn said.
“It remains to be seen what happens out of Argentina,” he said. “They were delayed significantly.”
Rather than kicking off the first week of October, the Argentinean deal was more likely to start the third week of October. How that affects November movement is still anyone’s guess, Quinn said.
“If they’re steady through November, it should be a smooth transition (to Chile),” he said. “If not, there could be a lot of product.”
As of mid-October, Quinn was leaning towards a smooth transition with “pretty steady” markets heading into the early Chilean deal.
Despite the major September freezes that decimated some Chilean crops, blueberry importers were expecting a good crop out of Chile. However, as of mid-October it was too soon to tell for sure, said Frank Ramos, president of Miami-based customs brokerage The Perishable Specialist.
“From what everyone’s saying, it should be a big year,” Ramos said. “Everyone’s expecting some kinds of setback (from the freezes), but to what extent remains to be seen.”
Argentina should carry the import blueberry deal through most of November, with Chile beginning to take over in December, said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.
The deal should ramp up slowly but by January be relatively on track, Bowe predicted.
“It looks like a regular season.”
The freezes should not affect the quality or fruit size in this year’s crop, Bowe said.
Despite the freeze damage, U.S. retailers can still count on plenty of Chilean fruit this season, particularly once the southern growing regions, which weren’t hit as hard, come into production, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
“There are still plenty of opportunities, especially in February and March,” Bocock said. “And there will be some in January, conventional and organic.”
Because of where many of Naturipe’s organic Chilean blueberry plantings are located, the company’s organic production out of the country likely will be higher this season, Bocock said.
“Organic could be up a fair amount.”
Conventional production, by contrast, should be similar to last season or even down, Bocock said.
Because’s Naturipe’s production is spread out across Chile, and therefore representative of the industry as whole, Bocock said he expects production industrywide to be similarly flat or slightly down in 2013-14.
For Naturipe, the import blueberry deal in November should be dominated by Argentina, Bocock said.
In December, the company expects to begin flying product in from Chile that typically would come by boat in January.
Because of delays caused by the September freezes, the first vessel shipments won’t make it to the U.S. in time for some customers, Bocock said.
“Retailers will want product for the holidays,” he said.