Shippers say most of the major Chilean fruit exports are expected to be produced and exported in greater volumes. One exception is the avocado crop, which is in a low-production cycle and was further reduced by cold weather.

During the 2009-10 season, Chile shipped 896,000 tons of fruit to the U.S., which was nearly 2% more than the previous season’s volume. Table grapes, avocados and apples were the major Chilean fruit exports to the U.S. However, last year’s fruit volume was less than it might have been because of an early freeze that damaged grapes, cherries and avocados.

In early November, Chilean avocados were in short supply in the U.S. In October, the estimated import volume dropped from 200 million pounds to 100 million to 120 million pounds. Importers said they expect supplies to increase in the U.S. in time for Super Bowl Sunday, the most popular time for avocado purchases.

Chile is a major source of grapes and stone fruit during North American winters, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla. Del Monte stone fruit, avocados, grapes, apples, kiwifruit and pears from Chile.

Importers expect a bigger volume of Chilean grapes this season, too. Tristan Kieva, director of marketing and business development for Pandol Bros., Delano, Calif., said the company expects to bring in 1.5 million cartons this season. She also said the Chilean fruit season is now highlighted by retailers.

“A lot are promoting the Chilean season in stores to show that it’s a global marketplace, and consumers are more accustomed to seeing fruit coming from Chile,” she said.

“Quality of fruit and fair ad pricing is what drives sales,” said Brad Cantwell, vice president of the deciduous fruit division at Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Westlake Village, Calif.

Cantwell said predicting the market four to six weeks in advance offers retailers needed price points for advertising. Dole aggressively promotes its full line of products together, he said.

Retailer promotions of bigger packs of Chilean blueberries that offer consumers a better value are helping drive off-season demand for blueberries in the U.S. Importers expect a bigger crop and larger import volumes this season. Cherry imports are also expected to increase.

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, represents about 30 growers in strategic locations throughout Chile, said Karin Gardner, marketing communications manager. Its major Chilean commodities are grapes, stone fruit, blueberries, avocados, apples, pears and citrus.

One emerging trend for Chilean exporters is a growing interest among retailer buyers in setting up fixed-price programs. The programs help reduce uncertainty that can result from supply fluctuations, Gardner said.

“We are creating effective programs by aligning customers with growers who can meet their specifications on quality and product mix, though the majority of our customers are still buying Chilean fruit on the spot market,” she said.

Grower-shipper Exportadora Verfrut SA, Las Cabras, Chile, expects to ship more than 2.6 million boxes of fresh produce, including grapes, stone fruit and apples, to the U.S. and Canada, said Piero Vercellino, commercial executive in charge of the U.S. and Canadian markets. He said Verfrut expects to sell more than 1 million boxes through fixed-price programs this season.

Programs assure growers that their fruit will be sold, but when prices are fixed in U.S. dollars and the dollar’s value continues to weaken, growers still suffer from lower returns. The continued weakening of the dollar presents a difficult problem for Chilean growers. U.S. buyers could see prices rise, and Kieva said the spot market is predicted to be more volatile this season.