Warm weather this winter has prompted a bit earlier start than usual to the West Mexico spring produce deal.
“We’ve still been running with weather anywhere from 8-10 degrees ahead of normal, and we don’t really see that changing going forward,” Chris Ciruli, partner in Ciruli Bros., Rio Rico, Ariz., said in mid-February. “The weather pattern seems like it is going to be very warm, which means we have bumper crops coming out and a lot of promotions to push.”
Importers reported good volumes and quality on items including tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, watermelon and more.
“We don’t expect any kind of issues so far,” said Felix Peralta, director of integrated logistics for Rio Rico-based SunFed. “The movement’s steady, the production’s going well, so we should have a good season.”
Companies are looking for demand to pick up as it usually does as spring draws near.
“March and April are just like a secondary peak here of northern-type fruit, so it’s a very, very active, busy couple of months,” Ciruli said. “It’s fun because the weather’s getting better and people are going to be eating a little more healthy and try to eat salads, and there’s a little more daylight around, they get out, (become) a little more active, so as they do that business usually picks up for the springtime, so we’re excited.”
Demand for Mexican produce could also be amplified depending on how much product is available from growing areas in the U.S.
“This year there’s been a lot more weather challenges, especially in the (Southeast), Northeast too, with the snows and stuff, which has hindered deliveries and shopping up in that area,” said Chuck Thomas, owner of Rio Rico-based Thomas Produce Sales. “That’s given us a little bigger window to take advantage of the markets.”
Ciruli identified the same opportunity.
“As we’re coming into the spring, the same guys that had challenges in the wintertime are going to have some gaps in their production due to their wintertime weather, and you’ll see Mexico will stay very, very steady from the first couple weeks of March, straight through April as we finish up our spring crops,” Ciruli said.
Importers hope that those conditions will also translate to better prices for product after all-around ideal growing weather last season resulted in abysmal vegetable markets.
Freight rates have been an issue, as they have for the entire produce industry. Rates have fallen since the holiday frenzy between mid-December and mid-January, but there are concerns they could spike again when higher volumes start crossing from Mexico.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the variety of product coming from Mexico could give importers an edge when competition for trucks intensifies.
“In April, May, June you can get watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, bell peppers, mangoes — practically everything that is imported in Nogales is available during that particular time window — table grapes ... ” Jungmeyer said. “The amount of product available here will continue to be a big draw for truckers even if there’s other growing areas that are competing for that business.”