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The Peruvian Asparagus Importer's Association has indicted that asparagus production in Peru is forecast to increase by 10 percent this year, and the association expects that exports to the United States for the 2009-10 season will also increase.

Many importers said that their own volumes are expected to increase fairly significantly and backed up this viewpoint. Most importers are anticipating a 5-15 percent increase in total volume, but many said their own firms will see their individual volume increase more than that.

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL, expects the industry to import about 5 percent more volume this year than it did last. He said that foodservice consumption has been down in the past year because of the economy, but for the same reason, retail sales are up a bit.

Mike Parr, general manager and founder of Team Produce International Inc. in Miami, expects overall volume to be 10 percent greater this year than last year. He noted that the early season has seen excellent quality with great acceptance by buyers. "We are not hearing of any problems, and I think that is because there have been very few ocean containers so far. Everything is coming by air because of the low freight rates, and that converts to fewer problems."

In late July, he said that the industry was already bringing in about 200,000 cartons per week. Volume typically peaks at more than twice that level, which he anticipates the industry reaching in late September or early October. Mr. Parr said that for its part, Team Produce's volume will jump 33 percent from 300,000 cartons last year to 400,000 cartons this year.

Jeff Friedman, sales manager and president of Carb/Americas Inc. in Pompano Beach, also foresees a double-digit increase in volume this year. He said that as asparagus volume increases, it needs to be marketed and sold as an everyday item rather than as a luxury item. He would like to see more aggressive pricing at retail to move the crop.

Jay Rodriguez, president of Crystal Valley Foods in Miami, expects close to a 10 percent increase in total volume for both the industry and his firm this year. He said that Crystal Valley is the fourth or fifth largest importer, and it will bring in 1.2 million cartons this year.

Don Hessel, general manager of asparagus operations for Oxnard, CA-based Mission Produce Inc., said that his firm is expecting a 10-12 percent increase in overall asparagus supplies this year from Peru, "and we're running a little better than that." Mission is in its third year in the deal and is still in a steep growth mode.

The Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association determined that last year, the United States imported more than 308 million pounds of fresh asparagus, with Peru representing about 56 percent of that total. Using 11-pound cartons as the standard, that means the United States imported around 28 million cartons of asparagus and Peru represented between 15 million and 16 million cartons of that total. This year, the estimate is for more than 16 million cartons.

Though Peru's percentage of the market has risen in recent years, per capita consumption of asparagus has not. The PAIA found that since 2004, the per capita consumption has remained steady at 1.1 pounds per person year- over-year, though it has increased by 37 percent since 1998.

Because of the increased volume, many importers are expecting a tough year when it comes to f.o.b. pricing. For the early part of the season, low freight rates and a better exchange rate have helped create a situation where the same pricing as last year has resulted in greater income for the grower. The market has been in the $13 to $17 range per carton for the most part during June and July.

While Peruvian asparagus is imported into the United States 12 months of the year, the bulk of it comes in during the last five months of the year. Alpine Fresh in Miami is one of those year-round importers that mirror industry statistics. Walter Yager, chief executive officer of the firm, said that about 70 percent of his Peruvian asparagus volume is handled from August to December.

Supplies trickle in during the spring months and grow gradually through the summer. Volume typically peaks in October and continues with strong shipments through the holiday period before they taper off after Christmas.

(For more on the Peruvian asparagus deal, see the Aug. 10, 2009 issue of The Produce News.)