Weather and demand from other markets could affect supplies of Chilean cherries, Asian pears and other fruits this winter.
Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., said more than 75 varieties of fresh fruits are exported from Chile to North America each year.
But the top five by volume — grapes, apples, avocados, blueberries and navel oranges — account for about three-quarters of the total, Tjerandsen said.
All signs were pointing toward a normal start to the 2012-13 winter season, Tjerandsen said.
“Currently, the fruit is right on time and we see no significant shifts in the traditional shipping patterns,” he said. “Depending on the variety, there could be some significant shifts (in volume), but in general we continue to strive, with the help of Mother Nature, to set a new record total every year.”
Speaking of Mother Nature, some Chilean growers are dealing with weather-related headaches thus far this season, but nothing out of the ordinary, Tjerandsen said.
“As usual, a few late frosts are wreaking havoc with early stone fruit varieties — apricots, cherries, etc. — in the far south, where this is traditionally a challenge.”
The earliest fruit will likely arrive in early December, with deals typically winding down in about mid-April, Tjerandsen said.
Problems during the flowering stage could reduce the number of fresh Chilean cherries shipped to North America this winter, which won’t make retailers or consumers very happy, said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y.
“I think there’s a reduction in the projected volumes for cherries, which is everyone’s favorite item,” Padover said.
North America received about 3 million boxes of cherries from Chile last season.
Vandenberg’s first arrivals of cherries by air are expected about Nov. 12, with the first vessel arrivals scheduled for about Dec. 6-10, just in time for peak volumes around the holidays, Padover said.
Vandenberg expects to have Chilean cherries available for sale in the U.S. through January, Padover said.
Cherries marketed by Lake Success, N.Y.-based William H. Kopke Jr. Inc. should begin arriving in early November, likely slightly later than normal, said Peter Kopke, the company’s president.
It was still too early to tell for sure what 2012-13 volumes would be, Kopke said.
“Right now the crop looks to be OK, but they still could have rain and frost,” he said.
Kopke typically sells Chilean cherries until late January.
North American importers have to fight for their share of Chilean cherries, given ever-higher demand from Asian and other import rivals, but the category continues to thrive, Kopke said.
“The acceptance of Chilean cherries is excellent,” he said. “It’s the fastest-growing category in the history of the Chilean fruit business.”
Fall rains will likely wind up affecting Chilean cherries more than other fruits, said Josh Leichter, general manager of Reedley, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC.
And when you add strong demand from other markets to Mother Nature’s effects, it could be an interesting year for the Chilean cherry deal in North America, Leichter said.
“There’s really strong demand for cherries in Asia,” he said. “How many come here remains to be seen.”
Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., expects to begin bringing in Asian pears from Chile at the end of February or beginning of March, slightly ahead of schedule, said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager.
“Everything looks like it’s about a week early,” he said. “Growing conditions have been good. There haven’t been any freezes to date that are worrisome.”
Chilean Asian fruit growers could, however, use a little more moisture, Kragie said.
“It’s been very dry,” he said. “They haven’t received as much rain as they’d like. It’s a major concern this winter.”
Western Fresh expects to import about 15% more Asian pears from Chile this season, Kragie said.
Western Fresh expects about a 100% increase in its volumes of Chilean figs this season, Kragie said. That follows a 200% increase from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
“We were the first importer of fresh figs from Chile,” Kragie said.
Chile is expected to take over Western Fresh’s fresh fig deal from California in mid-December, Kragie said.
The company is now close to having year-round coverage on figs.
Only a three- to four-week gap in the spring, when Chile transitions back to California, prevents Western Fresh from supplying its customers with fresh figs 365 days a year, he said.
Western Fresh expects shipments of Chilean kiwifruit, which along with Asian pears is the company’s top commodity from Chile, to begin arriving in late March and sugar plums in late April, to be followed by persimmons, pomegranates and quinces later in the spring and summer, Kragie said.
The company expects volume increases in most if not all categories.
“We’ll have broad, across-the-board increases,” Kragie said. “We made the decision to stay with what we’re good at.”