“Now people are considering it all year round in the winter months,” he said. “It creates more consumer interest. As consumer interest grows, it’s a win on both sides.”
Asked about pricing of the winter blueberries, Villata said volumes are growing and imports are increasing each year as blueberries gain notoriety for their healthfulness.
Citing per-capita consumption numbers, he said from 2003 to 2008 consumption rose from 20 ounces per person to 26.6 ounces per person. Of that consumption, five years ago only 8.7 ounces were fresh compared to 12.3 ounces consumed fresh in 2008.
“The real bump has been in the fresh consumption,” he said.
Barsi said blueberry production in neighboring Uruguay also is helping to boost the deal.
“Last year, Argentina and Uruguay combined exported approximately 11.2 million kg (24.6 million pounds),” he said. “This year, total production is forecasted for approximately 16.5 million kg (36.3 million pounds), of which approximately 12.5 million kg (27.5 million pounds) are exportable. This is an increase of about 12% over last season.”
Per region, Barsi reported 3.4 million kilos (7.5 million pounds) from Tucuman; 6.5 million kilos (14.3 million pounds) from Concordia; 1 million kilos (2.2 million pounds) from Buenos Aires; and Northern and Southern Uruguay accounted for 1.32 million kilos (2.9 million pounds) and 330,000 kilos (726,000 pounds), respectively.
The overlap between the Argentine and Chilean seasons also is drawing attention to the logistical concerns of each country.
“The early season out of Chile overlaps with the late season of Argentina. It’s a natural overlap. In North America, it’s relative to New Jersey, Michigan and other regional areas transitioning supply,” said Driscoll’s Mike Hollister. “They complement one another, but there are times when they overlap.”
Hollister said the overlapping happens in November and the first half of December when the overall supply from Chile is still very light.
Honigberg described the two programs as dovetailing perfectly as final air shipments from Argentine combine with the first Chilean production arriving by boat.
Supplers said concerns arise because of the eagerness for suppliers to change deals and avoid fumigation and air freight costs associated with the Argentina deal.
Many growers believe that a drop in fuel prices should make air transportation costs lower this year, thus reducing costs that may help meet grower needs more easily.
“Retailers are looking to price sharp and aggressively so that they can sell the product in large volumes,” said Honigberg. “The differences from last year are that there are fewer exporters, an earlier start date and growers did stop last year when the pricing started going too low.”
Nonetheless, Honigberg said she believes the Argentine deal should dovetail well with the Northwest and Michigan seasons. She said that should result in a smoother production curve that will allow earlier entry for larger packs including 6-ounce, pints, and earlier participation in club stores.
“I don’t think there will be an issue on marketing,” she said. “I think the fruit will move really well, and the market will be ready for it.”