Supplies of Peruvian asparagus were ramping up in July, but volumes will likely be down this year.
Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Carb Americas Inc. began with Peruvian asparagus volumes in early summer, adding the South American product to its Mexican imports, said Jeff Friedman, president. By mid-July, volumes were increasing, to last through late December or mid-January.
That’s if Mother Nature cooperates, Friedman said.
“A lot depends on Peru, if they have cold weather.”
Competition from other markets could again limit Peruvian volumes to the U.S., but that’s not the only factor that could keep a lid on supplies this year, Friedman said.
There’s also the “thirsty crop” factor.
“Over the past two or three years, exportable volumes have dropped every year,” he said. “I think we’ll see that trend continue. Peruvian growers are disking over older fields and planting avocados, grapes, citrus — other things that don’t use as much water.”
That trend won’t go on forever, though, Friedman said. When new asparagus fields come into production in the next two or three years, volumes should creep back up.
Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, expected another strong year for Peruvian asparagus after a successful 2012.
“In 2012, Peru shipped over 172 million pounds of fresh asparagus to the United States,” Lleras said. “We’re at the launch in our season and expecting a good steady crop throughout the remainder of the year.”
A slower start to the 2013 season didn’t mean the deal couldn’t catch up, Lleras said.
“Volumes are a tad lower year over year. We anticipate our peak volumes, which begin in September and October, to compensate,” she said. “Peru has been able to supply and maintain fresh asparagus to U.S. retailers and foodservice with steady volumes carrying through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.”
Miami-based Crystal Valley Foods imports asparagus from Peru year-round, but volumes really pick up steam beginning in July, said Rick Durkin, director of business development.
The company, which last year opened an office, Crystal Valley West in Los Angeles, expects its volumes to be up this year, Durkin said.
“We can now load a good amount of volume from both Miami and L.A.,” he said. “All of our growers are projecting strong supplies.”
Mexico as a factor
One major factor in how the Peruvian season shapes up is the performance of the Mexican asparagus deal, said Peter Warren, marketing and sales director of Pompano Beach-based Ayco Farms Inc.
In 2012, Mexico shipped about 20.6 million boxes of asparagus to the U.S. Peru exported 15.6 million boxes to the U.S.
“It was the first time in history that Mexico shipped more than Peru,” Warren said. “Mexico seems to be taking a much more aggressive role in asparagus, and it changes the dynamic for Peru.”
When it comes to quality, it’s more or less a wash between the two regions, Warren said.
Mexico has one unquestioned advantage over its Latin-American rival.
“Logistically, Mexico is a little more user-friendly,” Warren said.
Steady volume from Peru
Unlike others in the asparagus industry, Warren said he believes Peruvian volumes should stay fairly steady. Ayco, for instance, expects to import about 30% more Peruvian asparagus this year than last year.
“Some people say there will be negative growth, but I don’t think so. We’ve put together some powerful alliances with growers, and we have a bigger program than ever before.”
Warren reported good summer growing weather out of Peru as of early July.
A slow, steady increase in volumes beginning in early July was expected to culminate about two months later for Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties, said Charlie Eagle, vice president for business development.
“It’s building now towards the beginning of September,” Eagle said. “By then, we should see good volumes.”
Industrywide, volumes of Peruvian asparagus shipped to the U.S. should be similar to last year, Eagle said. Southern Specialties, however, expects to see a slight uptick.
About 250,000 11-pound cases were shipping from Peru to North American markets per week this year as of early July, about 30% less than last year, said Carlos Solf, Southern Specialties procurement director.
By season’s end, industrywide volumes could be about the same as last year or possibly 5% lower, Solf said.
In early July, Peru was experiencing colder-than-normal weather, Solf said.
“That will affect overall production,” he said.
Also as a result of the cold, sizes will tend more towards standards than jumbos, though overall quality shouldn’t be affected.
“Quality has been good,” Solf said.