“On our end, we have to evolve the way we are marketing Chilean blueberries in the U.S. to increase consumption during the wintertime at volumes that will work ... but at prices that are a value and attractive to the consumer and sustainable to the growers in their operations in Chile,” he said.
Flores said part of that evolution is realizing that people have to go to larger packs than before. That means understanding how to precool larger packs so that they arrive in good condition and the blueberries retain shelf life.
Mark Girardin, president of North Bay Produce Inc., Traverse City, Mich., believes this year’s absorption of fresh blueberries in North America is evidence that the Chilean deal is also moveable.
“If you look at the numbers that have been consumed in the Northern Hemisphere this year, we’ve had record movement in fresh produce throughout the year,” he said.
“Of July’s figures in particular, he said, “there’s never been 67 million pounds of fresh blueberries consumed in the U.S. in one month before.”
With respect to customer perceptions of the Chilean deal in the European marketplace, Girardin said North Bay had no indication the quantity is an unmarketable one.
As for stateside expectations, Girardin said distribution will concentrate east of the Rockies, which is the case for most suppliers.
Last year’s glut of blueberries and poor quality depressed prices and hurt Chilean growers, but this year suppliers are expecting that better infrastructure and cooperative weather will result in a steady supply and acceptable returns.
“Our job is to sell it as high as we can — the most the market will bear. How we try to separate ourselves from other shippers is to work closely with growers over the long range,” Neary said.
When asked if Chilean growers are likely to leave the deal like Argentine growers have a year after heavy losses, Neary said, “I think the Chilean industry is a little more mature and those that got in early are very efficient. They probably learned things the hard way 10 years ago.”
Neary said with the industry maturing rapidly, supply is starting to catch up with demand.
“What we’re trying to do is start to plan well ahead and start to set up the right product for what our retailer wants,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our customer base as diverse as we can, where we just don’t get fixed in on just a handful of customers.