Marketers say they anticipate good supplies of numerous varieties of pineapples throughout 2017, even after a spate of rough weather in Central America.

"Growers are emerging now from the rainy season, which always presents challenges, but all appearances are that there has been no adversity as a result as we get ready to head towards a strong spring season," said Bil Goldfield, spokesman for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co.

That includes organic pineapples, which more consumers are seeking out, Goldfield said.

"The desire of consumers towards organic product is a trend that continues across all produce, and Dole has focused efforts on increasing farming of our Dole organic pineapples to answer that need," he said.

The crop outlook is very good for Robinson Fresh, fresh produce division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

There is hope that the 2017 crop will have better yields than last year, said Gustavo Lora, category manager of pineapples at Robinson Fresh.

The year-ago crop had some troubles that began a year earlier, Lora said.

"Pineapples have a one-year cycle - whatever happens in the year's cycle will affect the following year," he said.

Hurricane Otto rumbled through Central America in November, but did no damage to the pineapple crop, Lora said.

"It's worth noting that even with a Category 3 hurricane, Central America is able to live through severe weather and continue on," Lora said.

There also were a few very harsh rain-drenched weeks early in 2016, Lora said.

"Nothing out of the ordinary, but those rains are having an impact on this crop," he said.

Many of Costa Rica's pineapple-producing areas also endured periods of drought during the year, said Mike Anderson, vice president of international procurement with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Kingston Marketing Associates LLC.

"This will play a factor in production through the first quarter of 2017," Anderson said. "Farms will have to rely heavily on second harvests in order to cover their commitments. This is common practice but will likely result in lower yields throughout that period."

Yields should be in the average range for 2017, Lora said.

The hurricane was the last major weather-related issue growers have confronted, but it did affect some growers in northern Costa Rica, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

Robinson Fresh is expecting more requests for crownless pineapples for fresh-cut and dicing at destination because "more fruit is being processed in the U.S.," Lora said.

There were no quality issues during the early part of the winter season, said Eddie Navas, general manager at Miami-based Chestnut Hill Farms.

"The first part of the year, this time of year, we experience cold fronts, and that kind of forces fruit to bear a little bit," he said.

As for variety trends, there isn't much change, Lora said, noting that the MD2SP golden-sweet pineapple variety holds 80% of the U.S. market.

Robinson also is seeing stronger demand for organic pineapples, which still comprise less than 1% of the market, Lora said.

However, he said, "organic poses a challenge to keep supply going year-round because organic crops can be easily wiped out due to plagues and weather issues."

Anderson cited U.S. Department of Agriculture reports noting that imports of fresh pineapple increased about 10% from 2015 to 2016.

"Compared to January 2016, this year is off to a slow start," Anderson said.

With demand in the U.S. lower than initially anticipated, imports are trending lower compared to the same period in 2016, Anderson said.

"However, the crop for 2017 looks good, and we expect consumption to increase and volumes to return to normal levels over the course of the year," Anderson said.

Navas said prices were steady compared to a year ago.

As of Jan. 24, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one-layer cartons of golden ripe pineapples from Central America were $8-9 on all sizes. A year earlier, they were $9-10 on sizes 5-7 and $8-9 on 8s.

 
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