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Lower Chilean volumes still represent a lot of fruit

by Tad Thompson | January 17, 2010
Chilean fruit volumes are down this winter because of very cold temperatures in Chile in the Southern Hemisphere's spring and summer months of August and September.

But, Mark Greenberg, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Fisher Capespan, based in Gloucester City, NJ, said, "Volume is never really down. Chile always manages to ship a healthy volume. We will see volumes similar to last year, and possibly greater than last year."

Frank Dandrea, president of Vineland, NJ-based Dandrea Produce Inc., also sees good promotional opportunities for retailers this winter. Mr. Dandrea said Jan. 5 that the Chilean import season is 10 days behind normal, "but the volume will pick up rapidly in next 10 days. There will be promotional opportunities and big volumes through February and March, especially with grapes."

Mr. Dandrea's growers of all commodities are shipping "very good" quality, he said. "We've not had a problem yet." Cherries were hit by a "serious freeze" in Chile, but what survived the freeze has shown "very, very few problems on quality."

Dandrea Produce received two sea containers of cherries Jan. 5 and the fruit "is coming in real well," Mr. Dandrea said. "Last year there was a lot of pitting" on Chilean cherries.

Dandrea's cherry volume in early January was 15 percent higher than the previous year. "The market is up 15 percent or so with diminished [industrywide] supplies. Promotions are running really well. This week alone we had 20,000 boxes of sweet cherries," Mr. Dandrea said.

Dandrea was also enjoying "a fairly decent volume on stone fruit," he said. "We are getting in 15,000 to 20,000 cases per week in aggregate, sometimes more. We are particular on our sizing. We have to have larger-size fruit" to suit regular retail customers, who also require that their tree-ripe fruit has certain pressures and Brix levels. "We have fixed programs with some customers and others like market pricing."

Mr. Dandrea noted, "The nectarines and peaches are beautiful. Plums are just starting."

Peter Kopke Sr., president of Wm. H. Kopke Jr. Inc. in Lake Success, NY, was on hand to receive Chilean fruit, including grapes and cherries, in the port of Philadelphia in December. "The fruit is good. Condition is perfect," he said of the deal so far.

He noted in December that Chilean grapes are three or four weeks later than usual and added that stone fruit will be two or three weeks late. He anticipated at the time that Wm. H. Kopke Jr. Inc.'s Christmas volume would be down and January and February quantities from Aconcagua, Chile, would be light.

"I don't know yet for the Central Valley," he said. "It's not a big crop anywhere in Chile."

Despite the challenges, Mr. Kopke said that he is optimistic about the 2010 Chilean fruit season.

As is always the case in the produce business, final tallies will depend on the weather, Mr. Greenberg told The Produce News Jan. 6. "If there is precipitation, it will decrease the volume and exporters will be less inclined to send sensitive varieties, like Thompsons, after rain. If the weather holds, expect a greater volume than last year."

Mr. Greenberg said that because of cold weather and a late start on the shipping season, Chilean grape volumes will not become extremely large until late January or early February. He then expects heavy Chilean grape supplies through the first three weeks of March.

Mr. Greenberg said that the Delaware River's fruit ports will be receiving two or three vessels bearing Chilean fruit each week this winter.

(For more on Chilean fruit, see the Jan. 18, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)