Winter blueberries don’t have to have a gap, even if Argentina hits the kind of rough starts it has seen the last couple of years, according to some U.S. suppliers.
The problem is finding a way to fill the gap between the end of U.S. production in September and the start of the Chilean deal in December.
Punctuating the dilemma is Argentina’s two straight bad-weather growing seasons, the latest of which has U.S. suppliers predicting a later-than-usual start for Argentina shipments.
Bobby Stokes, berry sales manager with Curry & Co. LLC, Brooks, Ore., said he’s looking to close the gap between the U.S. and Chile, just in case Argentine supplies fall short.
“We’re looking at any options we can to fill that gap,” he said.
“When we lose momentum, as soon as you start seeing expensive fruit, you cut down your displays, your inventories are down and your prices are up and you just try and make your (margin) on what little you’re going to get out.”
He said a downturn in supplies dries up promotional opportunities, but that doesn’t have to happen.
“We can change that with varieties, availability and filling the gap,” he said.
“We can have a mess of year-round blueberries, like they do with strawberries. We can overtake strawberries simply by filling the gaps correctly with the right varieties at the right time out of the right region.”
Finding a good backup plan, in case Argentina can’t fill supply needs, likely has crossed the minds of most U.S. suppliers, said Keith Mixon, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based Sunny Ridge Farm Inc.
The window Argentina fills is too important not to consider a little insurance, he said.
“I would say the market window that’s most attractive to the world right now is mid-September through the beginning of November, and I’d say all guns are aimed toward that window, including the U.S., Mexico and Chile all trying to hit that window,” he said.
Most berry marketers agree that Argentina remains an important part of their plan.
“We continue to regard Argentina as a viable and needed source for the blueberry program in North America,” said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
“We want to work with Argentina growers to provide a living and profitability to their farms and also, frankly, help keep the supply chain filled with blueberries for the North American consumers, while we’re transitioning between the North American crop and Chile. It’s a very, very nice window.”
Bocock said his company intends to meet those goals.
“We’re working with Argentina relatively aggressively to locate, work with and develop programs with who we feel are the best of the best in Argentina and who have the ability to sustain their livelihoods both now and into the future,” he said.
Argentina will remain an important player for the foreseeable future, Bocock said.
“While they’re the piece of meat in the middle of the sandwich, I don’t see that sandwich squeezing them out in the next five years, and they may never squeeze them out if they don’t figure out how to get production in their window,” he said.