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Peruvian sweet onion import volume looks to increase in 2009

by Lora Abcarian | August 20, 2009
Domestic importers of Peruvian sweet onions are anticipating an uptick in volume during the 2009 season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service indicated Aug. 4 that the first arrivals of Peruvian onions were expected to occur by mid-August, with initial f.o.b.s to be announced shortly thereafter.

Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of Bland Farms, said that the company is excited about product arrival, terming this season's crop of Peruvians as one of exceptional quality. Bland Farms is projecting strong onion volume increases compared to 2008, and Mr. Hively expects cargo container movement for the company's supplies to increase by approximately 32 percent.

Last season, Venezuela heavily competed for Peruvian onions, affecting supplies exported to the United States. Shorter volumes were a mismatch for consumer demand. "We had the demand last year," Richard Pazderski, Bland Farms' director of sales and marketing, told The Produce News. Looking ahead, he added, "There will be heavy competition with South American markets." But Mr. Pazderski said that Bland Farms has business relationships in place to bring in ample volumes of promotable product to the domestic market this season.

Marty Kamer, vice president of sales for Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., said that the company has been importing Peruvian sweet onions for the past 15 years. "It's the preferred flat-shaped onion and is similar to a Vidalia," he said. "It's that time of year when the Peruvian sweet onion is beginning to be shipped into the [United States]." Mr. Kamer noted that retailers provide positive feedback about the sweet onions they sell.

The TradeCenter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Peru, known as AmCham Peru, promotes the interchange and businesses between Peruvian and American industrialists with the purpose of increasing the exports, imports and investment of its membership. Omar Aza?edo Say?n, deputy manager of AmCham Peru, stated Aug. 5, "It should be noted that the United States is the main destination for our agro-industrial exports, accounting for 30.7 percent of the total." During 2008, Peru exported approximately $2 billion for all products in this sector, up 23.3 percent from 2007.

During 2008, AmCham Peru provided the following observations about its onions and marketplace dynamics: "During the years 2003 to 2007, the Peruvian onion exports have grown 95.9 percent, reaching [$22.2 million in 2007]. Unquestionably our most important markets are the U.S., Chile and Holland, with the U.S. being the most important destination of them all, receiving around 86 percent of the worldwide onion exports during 2007."

Growth is attributed to the implementation of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. AmCham Peru stated, "Even though the U.S. is a big producer of onions, Peru faces huge opportunities in such market, first and foremost because our production can supply the U.S. demand during the winter months when there [aren't] enough onions in the Northern Hemisphere."

AmCham Peru also acknowledged that food safety concerns are growing in the United States, and that implementation of GAP standards is increasingly important. "And to be able to have access to the market, the onions must also meet the specifications of degree, size and of course ripeness," AmCham Peru added.

John Shuman, president and director of sales for Shuman Produce Inc., agreed, saying that Peru has enjoyed a positive reputation in the United States and has paid attention to food safety considerations.

"It's terribly important," he said. "We're working with other growers who export around the world. Food safety down there is cutting edge for that country. There's obviously a lot at stake for growers."

According to AmCham Peru, asparagus, artichokes, onions, other vegetables, paprika, mangos and grapes accounted for 65.8 percent of all Peruvian exports to the United States last year. Onions ranked ninth on the list of top 20 commodities during 2008, accounting for nearly 3 percent of all exported products.

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture published U.S. Food Import Patterns, 1998-2007, which showed that the value of all vegetables and vegetable products exported by Peru totaled nearly $182 million in 2007.

ERS also published its Vegetables and Melons Situation & Outlook Yearbook/VGS-2008 on May 15, 2008. According to that document, Peru accounted for 4 percent of the imported value of all vegetables, melons, pulse crops and seed crops during 2007.

ERS provided a snapshot of last year's onion crop in its Vegetables & Melons Yearbook Data/No. 89011, published on May 14. According to ERS, the import value of Peruvian onions during 2008 was approximately $19 million, down 2 percent from 2007 but up 9 percent from 2006.

(For more on the deal, see the Aug. 17, 2009 issue of The Produce News.)