Rainy weather is partially to blame for the slow the start of the Chilean avocado deal, importers say, but the rain is not expected to affect quality.

"We anticipate to start seeing Chilean fruit in December, and that will carry through until March or April," said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif.

Thomas said the rain should not have a major effect and was welcomed by growers.

"It was just late winter rain, which is good for everything," he said.

The rain did keep harvesters out of the fields for several days, and, combined with cool weather, can slow maturity of the fruit.

There were no freeze or frost issues.

"It"s just been a chilly spring," Thomas said.

There were no pest or disease issues either, he said. The Andes on the east and the desert to the north help keep pest and disease pressure to a minimum.

"It"s a pretty clean country as far as disease and pests," he said.

Thomas expected volume to be up over last year"s 10,906 tons, which was an 80% drop compared to the 2013-14 season.

Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif., attributed last season"s drop to a smaller crop and the fact that the domestic Chilean market and Europe were very strong markets for Chilean growers and exporters.

That likely will continue this year.

Shipments for the coming season may be no more than 30 million boxes, said Bruce Dowden, corporate vice president for Los Angeles based The Giumarra Cos.

"There are other markets that have been yielding a better return than the U.S. during (Chile"s) key periods," he said.

"Those returns versus exporting to the U.S. have been more favorable, and as a result, more of the fruit has gone to those markets," Dowden said.

Not even the favorable exchange rate has been sufficient to counter the difference in the European market price versus the price U.S. buyers will pay, he said.

Nonetheless, Dowden said movement to the U.S. may well pick up by December.

"We do expect the European market to slow down a little bit," he said, adding that prices could become more favorable in December and January.

Eco-Farm Corp., Temecula, Calif., began receiving Chilean avocados in late October, said Steve Taft, president.

The company likely will offer Chilean fruit until late February or March but could abandon the deal sooner if markets are not favorable, he said.

Most of the company"s Chilean avocados are pre-sold.

"We"re bringing almost no fruit in for the spot market," he said.

Meanwhile, Thomas said prices for Chilean avocados will be tied to prices out of Mexico, which has a lot of fruit this year.

Like at Eco Fresh, Chilean avocados that Index Fresh sells are committed before they leave Chile, Thomas said. The company does not sell Chilean avocados on the spot market.

He said he is pleased that the worldwide popularity of avocados is on the rise.

"We continue to be excited about the increase in consumption," he said.

In the U.S., "The Super Bowl is a huge avocado event," he said, as is football in general, including college bowl games.

So far, the Chilean avocados that have arrived in the U.S. have been looking good.

"Quality has been outstanding," Dowden said.

Some of Giumarra"s customers specifically request Chilean avocados.

"These are retailers who have gotten accustomed to using California and Chilean fruit throughout the year," he said.

El Nino could continue to hamper movement of Chilean avocados, he said.

"In certain situations, it will impact their ability to get the fruit out of the fields and into containers to our market," Dowden said.

However, El Nino should not affect the volume that will come to the U.S.

"That will be dictated by global market pricing," he said.

 
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