Despite a crop expected to be in the 65,000-ton range, 30% more than last season, importers of Chilean blueberries expect strong demand and brisk movement.
“Demand should be strong, because the increase in promotable volumes should drive sales at retail,” said Joe Barsi, director of business development for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc.
Blueberry prices will likely stay high through October before volume shipments begin arriving in time for the holidays, Barsi said.
“There should be decent volumes out of Argentina for Thanksgiving and out of Chile for Christmas,” he said. “There will be opportunities to promote during those holidays, and barring any weather issues, there should be no major supply gaps between Argentina and Chile.”
Despite China opening its doors to Chilean blueberries for the first time this season, Barsi does not expect a significant chunk normally slated for the U.S. to wind up in export markets other than the U.S.
“Due to the increase in volumes, I don’t think exports to China and other countries will cannibalize the U.S. volumes,” he said. “The United States is still the most important market for the Chilean blueberry industry.”
Demand grows with supplies
Expected higher volumes and an early start should mean that Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group will be able to take full advantage of winter holiday promotional opportunities in late December, said Nolan Quinn, the company’s berry category director.
“There should be promotable product from late December to mid-February,” Quinn said.
Oppenheimer expects its first shipments of blueberries from Chile the first week of December, a week or two earlier than usual, he said.
Quinn expects demand for Chilean blues to be “fair to good” all season, despite expected larger volumes not only from Chile but from Argentina, which overlaps Chile for a significant chunk of its deal.
Consumer demand for blueberries, Quinn said, continues to grow right along with supplies.
One factor that won’t likely affect demand for Chilean blueberries this year, but could in the future, is increased blueberry acreage in Mexico, Quinn said.
“Production is up a lot in Mexico,” he said. “They’re definitely still a small player, and it’s not enough to make an impact this year, but in maybe three to five years, they definitely could be a bigger player.”
A delay in the Chilean deal could wind up being a good thing for markets, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.