This year"s Chilean blueberry season got off to a cold, wet start, but importers are predicting an excellent season with strong demand once it gets underway.
 
"The season is starting extremely slowly in the north and the fruit"s not ripening," Janice Honigberg, president of Schiller Park, Ill.-based Sun Belle Inc., said on Oct. 7.
 
"It"s unfortunate, because there"s demand in the market and not much fruit available," Honigberg said.
 
Despite the slow start, Sun Belle and other grower-shippers, including Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll"s, are upbeat about the season ahead.
 
"Strong demand in all major markets, coupled with a favorable exchange rate, should contribute to a good season," said Brie Reiter Smith, general manager of Driscoll"s Chile. 
 
"Additionally, the profitability from another good season will enable producers to invest in good varieties and postharvest technologies that will improve quality on arrivals," Reiter Smith said.
 
The Chilean Blueberry Committee predicts global exports of the country"s fresh blueberries will range up to 241 million pounds, compared to last year"s exports of 203 million pounds, up to a 19% increase.
 
Of the 34.1 million boxes shipped in 2014-15, more than 19 million boxes arrived in North America, said committee executive director Andres Armstrong.
 
Armstrong expects this year"s North American exports to surpass 20 million boxes and reach historic highs.
 
"North American demand for blueberries continues to rise, and we"re committed to supplying this huge market with both the quantity and quality of blueberries it expects," he said.
 
He said the first peak is expected to be similar to 2014, with projected exports of 9 million to 13 million pounds in the second or third week of December.
 
Though there was little Chilean volume available in early October, Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms, expected the marketplace to fill up fairly quickly with berries from Argentina and Peru.
 
"We"ll be flying some Chilean fruit and bringing it by boat for arrival in November and December, but we won"t see major volumes coming by boat until middle to late December," Flores said.
 
Eric Crawford, president of Sunrise, Fla.-based Fresh Results, was early out of the gate in late September, flying in good quality conventional and organic blueberries from northern Chile.
 
"We"ll have light supply between now and mid-November, then we should have full-on production until mid-March," Crawford said.
 
Teddy Koukoulis, directory of blueberry operations for Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, said the Argentinian crop may be smaller than last year, leaving enough supply gaps to keep demand and prices up.
 
"We"re really looking forward to a good season," Koukoulis said.
 
Leslie Simmons, marketing manager for Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave"s Specialty Imports, anticipates prices will be about the same as last year.
 
"One factor that could come into play this year is the new blueberry supply coming from Peru and Mexico that will overlap during the Chilean season," Simmons said.

Organics

With no sign of an end to the U.S. Department of Agriculture"s nearly two-year-old fumigation protocol on blueberries from Chile"s central regions to keep out the European grapevine moth, the demand for organic fruit continues to outstrip supply.
 
"The moth has really affected our 52-week organic program," said Nader Musleh, executive director of the blueberry division for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms.
 
"We"re trying to start new crops in the south of Chile, where they don"t need to fumigate, but there"s not much we can do in the short term ... except apologize to customers," he said.
 
John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros., said the toughest part of the season for marketers lies just ahead managing the explosive supply curve when imports transition from air to large sea arrivals.
 
"Getting retail prices and pull timed right to coincide with and take on that volume is always a challenge," Pandol said.
 
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