“Just as Argentina and Uruguay are finishing up, Chile will start peaking,” he said. “It will be more of a seamless flow.”
Roberts also expected a 25% to 30% increase in volumes industrywide, an increase that would likely be mirrored by Naturipe’s volumes from Chile.
A late start to the Chilean deal due to cool weather — all three regions were set to begin about seven to 10 days later than normal — could mean that at some point in the deal, volumes could surge to catch up, said Bob Ritchart, vice president of sales for Tampa, Fla.-based Sun Valley International.
That scenario is more likely than another, in which the deal would last beyond its typical mid-January end date, Ritchart said.
That said, Ritchart doesn’t expect a glut that will slow demand for Chilean blueberries this season.
In fact, volume shipments could still begin arriving in time to take advantage of Thanksgiving pull, Ritchart said, though he’s not banking on it.
“It will be close,” he said. “It’s like strawberries out of Florida for Christmas. You either hit it or you don’t.”
Fall import blueberry prices would likely hold up through the week of Oct. 18, then start to come down by the first week of November to levels where chains could begin promoting, Ritchart predicted.
The beginning of the Chilean season overlaps with the middle to end of the Argentina season in November, said John Johnston, director of blueberry product management for Watsonville-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.
However, he said, Chilean volumes aren’t likely to ramp up until early to mid-December, so the chances of a substantial overlap are slim.
As a result, Driscoll anticipates brisk movement.
“We expect strong demand throughout the Chile season and especially during the peak in January,” Johnston said.
Chilean volumes will likely be up significantly this season, as much as 15%, said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave's Specialty Imports Inc.
Although growers in Argentina, whose November-January deal largely overlaps Chile’s, have been cutting acreage in recent years because of low margins, production in Argentina should be up this year.
But blueberry demand has continued strong, and despite those expected higher volumes, Bowe doesn’t anticipate anything other than brisk movement.
“If the weather’s good, they should have an excellent time for their period,” he said.
Prices for boxes of pint-size containers could go as low $19 f.o.b. for shippers with particularly heavy volumes, but for the most part, Bowe expected prices for Chilean blues in the $22-23 range this season.