Suppliers push huge Chilean blueberry crop

10/16/2009 09:55:00 AM
Abraham Mahshie

Bruce Turner, head of operations for Giumarra VBM International Berry LLC, Wenatchee, Wash., said hot and rainy conditions during harvest accounted for damage to berries that hurt retailer and consumer perception.

“We expect to have a little bit better condition coming in,” he said, adding that the weather is more consistent this year.

Bobby Stokes, berry sales manager at Curry & Co. LLC, Brooks, Ore., agreed everything seems to be on time with good weather this year, which should indicate that shipments will begin arriving by late November.

“They are trying to move less packages and more weight,” Stokes said of this year’s objectives, describing an industry consensus to start the deal with pints.

Stokes warned that timing of the shipments and smooth logistics will be necessary this year to avoid flooding the market with lower quality fruit that resulted in depressed pricing last year.

“They’re quality control is better and their product is better,” he said. “The people we’re talking to are increasing their acreage, increasing their volume and the volume is going to be excellent for us. They are extremely excited about the start of the season.”

Joe Barsi, director of business development at California Giant Inc., Watsonville, explained that because Chile has been handling blueberries longer than Argentina, it is a preferred deal with more predictability.

Less predictable weather in Argentina is also a reason why suppliers prefer Chile.

“The efficiency of logistics, packaging, quality — they are more experienced. Those markets are more mature,” he said of Chile. “People look forward to that.”

Barsi said the industry agreement on pints “will play a huge role in the movement of the pack.”

Barsi also said that in the North American market, 60% more crop was able to move this year thanks to bigger packs and proper retail, indicating that the high winter volumes should also move well.

“Like you see in any blueberry shipping point … as the industry matures and you get more volume, the trend is towards a larger package to move the crop so that the retailers can price it properly,” said Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations at Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J.

Neary said Sunny Valley is expecting 40% more volume out of Chile, and the company will probably bring in 750,000 boxes, a 20% to 30% increase over last year.

Flores pointed out that movement from a 6-ounce to a pint is more than doubling the purchase amount for consumers, which does a lot to perceived value if the price is right.

“It’s a matter of upsizing the pack to the consumer and giving the consumer a good value proposition and moving more fruits in the marketplace,” he said.


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