Peruvian onions late out of gate, should catch up

09/22/2010 02:51:09 PM
Andy Nelson

Volumes were delayed and sizes large at the beginning of the Peruvian sweet onion deal, but quality was excellent and importers expected normal-sized crops, with more mediums on tap later in the deal.

Because of cool growing weather, Peru was running about two weeks behind at the beginning of September, with volumes expected to hit the week of Sept. 6, said Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.

Bland could have used that lost supply in late August to help meet demand, Hively said, though the company’s New York deal helped to fill the pipeline until Peru ramped up.

“It would have helped to have had good supplies by mid-August, but we weren’t hurt too bad,” he said.

Quality in early-season onions was “absolutely gorgeous,” Hively said, with sizes running about 50% jumbos, 40% mediums and 10% colossals.

That’s down from a usual mix of about 40% jumbos, 40% mediums and 20% colossals, but Hively said the percentage of colossals would likely increase as the season progressed.

Bland expects to import about 1.5 million boxes of Peruvian sweets this year, up slightly from last year.

Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing received its first shipment of Peruvian sweets just before Labor Day, said Marty Kamer, partner and vice president.

Volume shipments will likely begin in October, Kamer said.

“We will have steady and promotable supplies through February,” he said.

Keystone’s growers planted 10% more hectares in Peru this year, Kamer said, but volumes could be higher or lower, depending on the weather.

“It’s a little too early to project the final volume for the season,” he said.

“A 10% increased over last year would be logical. However, the final volume for the season is in part up to Mother Nature and the yields from the various fields from Peru.”

Early shipments were heavy toward jumbos and colossals for Keystone, Kamer said.

“The quality has been very nice and will only improve as we get deeper into the season,” he said.

Register, Ga.-based Four Corners Farms began shipping Peruvian onions the week of Aug. 9, right on schedule, said Rawls Neville, the company’s operations manager.

Shipments increased weekly throughout the second half of August and began peaking in early September, Neville said.

Four Corners expects to ship about 195 loads of Peruvian sweets this year, about 40 more than last year, Neville said.

The company decided to increase its Peruvian deal because of certain expectations in the domestic market, he said — expectations that turned out to be correct.

“We thought Vidalia would be shorter, and that we’d need more (Peruvian product) on the front end, and that’s pretty much what came to pass,” he said.

Peru more or less had the U.S. sweet deal to itself heading into the fall, Neville said.

“There are some domestic deals going now, but they’re very limited,” he said. “There’s not really any direct competition.”

Excellent quality on the early Peruvian product helped to keep movement brisk for Four Corners’ higher volumes, Neville said.

“Overall, it’s the best onion from Peru in three years,” he said. “The appearance is beautiful, and they’re very mild.”

The size profile of the company’s early-season product also was outstanding, Neville said.

“We’re shipping about 90% jumbos,” he said. “It’s a bigger profile than last year. Right now, we’re perfect.”

Four Corners expects to ship Peruvian onions through December, Neville said.

Volumes will likely to be down slightly compared to last year for Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Co., and more in line with the 2008 season, said Barry Rogers, the company’s president.

Sweet Onion Trading expects to import about 185,000 cartons this season, he said. The company’s deal should wind down in late December or early January.

Medium-sized onions from Peru could be more scarce, thanks to increasing domestic demand in the country, Rogers said.

“A lot of onions are being sold for cash locally,” he said. “It seems to be a trend that increases every year.”

Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based Direct Source Marketing expects to bring in about 120,000 boxes of Peruvian sweets this season, up from 70,000 boxes last year and 45,000 boxes in 2008, said Ira Greenstein, the company’s owner.

The company’s first load arrived the week of Aug. 23, Greenstein said.

“We’re very pleased with the quality,” he said.

Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc. imported its first load of Peruvian sweets in mid-August, but volumes weren’t expected until mid- to late September, said Brandon Parker, the company’s sales manager.

Upon onion arrivals, inspections at the port slowed the distribution of early-season product, Parker said. Volumes increased on a weekly basis in late August and early September.

Shuman Produce expects to ship up to 475,000 cartons of Peruvian onions this year, up from last season, Parker said.

The company’s first-crop shipments from Peru will wind down around the first of the year, he said. Shipments from a second crop should last through February.

Parker reported outstanding quality in September, noting the crop’s good color, shape and size.



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