Cold weather in some of Chile’s growing areas in late June and July failed to put a freeze on avocado shipments.
Only 5% to 10% of the crop was affected by the weather, and this season’s projected volume of 170 million pounds still will be 25% larger than last year’s, the Washington, D.C.-based Chilean Avocado Importers Association estimated.
Labor Day marked the kickoff of the Chilean avocado season, said Maggie Bezart, the association’s marketing director.
The association wants buyers to start thinking Chile as the California crop winds down, she said.
About 70% of that country’s exports to the U.S. will be distributed in the West, with the remainder going to the East.
“Chile is known for its excellent quality and consistency in size,” Bezart said.
Sizing on this year’s early fruit was small to medium, said Jim Donovan, vice president of business development for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., but recent rain and snow in drought-ridden areas might help boost sizing as the season progresses.
Built-up demand for avocados should be strong because of tight crops in California and Mexico this season, he said.
Increased volume from Chile should bring some price relief for consumers while still allowing shippers to make a decent profit.
Two-layer cartons of size 48 avocados had f.o.b. prices of $52.25-53.25 in late August and $44.25-45.25 in early September according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We can’t complain about prices,” Donovan said. But he added that prices likely will drop in the fall.
Eating quality of the early fruit was good, said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif.
He said he expected normal-size fruit from a crop that will be larger than last year’s with promotable volume for retailers by early September.
Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., started receiving light shipments of Chilean avocados in late July, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.
Volume was picking up during August, and significant supplies should be available in September, he said.
By the second week of August, quality was looking good.
“The fruit always looks great out of Chile,” Wedin said.
Just under 10% of Calavo’s total volume comes from Chile, and that figure is growing, he said.
Brandon Graters, avocado salesman for Interfresh Inc., Fullerton, Calif., also reported good quality on early season Chilean avocados, but he said the fruit had not achieved high oil content as of mid-August.
“Quality will continue to get better every time (product) arrives,” he said, with significantly improved eating quality expected by mid-September.
The U.S. isn’t the only outlet for Chilean avocados.
Chilean grower-shippers have been promoting fresh avocados in Europe and other South American countries, like Argentina, as well as in their own domestic market, “and it’s been working,” said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif.
Per capita consumption has increased in Chile, and while 80% of the country’s avocados were shipped to the U.S. 20 years ago, today that figure is closer to 50%, he said.
Chile was shipping only limited quantities to the West Coast in August and in early September because of the opening of the U.S. market to Peruvian avocados, he said.
Mission Produce, which sources about 20% of its annual volume from Chile, was receiving its first Chilean fruit of the season the second week of August and expects to ship the fruit into March, Donovan said.
The past season was the first time in 10 years that all three major growing areas — California, Mexico and Chile — had reduced crops, Wedin said. With a 15% annual increase in demand, that resulted in some shortages and high prices.
“Prices were as high as they’ve ever been,” he said.
There likely will be a rush on the part of some Chilean grower-shippers to get their product to the U.S. early in the season to take advantage of those high prices, Wedin said.
Growers need to be patient if they hope to ship larger sizes. With a six-month season, they’ve got plenty of time to sell their crop, he said.