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Altar enhances image as top asparagus importer



With imports of around 8 million cartons of Mexican asparagus, Calexico, CA-based Altar Produce Inc. is one of the larger importers of “grass” in the United States. It is only adding to that reputation by greatly increasing its presence in the Peruvian asparagus deal this year.

“We have largely been growing Mexican asparagus,” said Chris Ramirez, president of the company, “but this year we are going to pretty much double our volume out of Peru.”

Ramirez said that last season, Altar Produce imported about 800,000 cartons of Peruvian asparagus but this year “we think we will have about 2 million 11-pounders.”

He said the company’s volume has increased both because of increased production from its longer-term grower as well as the addition of new growers. Because the firm is such a big player in the Mexican asparagus deal, which comes up to the states on the West Coast, Ramirez said the Peruvian asparagus is used to supply the firm’s East Coast customers.

The Peru-sourced product does ship year-round, but the Altar executive said the firm’s Peruvian volume is mostly imported from May through December. “January to April our shipments are almost non-existent [from Peru].”

As he was surveying the market during the last full week of July, Ramirez predicted a tight marketing situation for August. However, he said retailers should be able to take out their marketing calendars from last year and set the same course with regard to Peruvian asparagus for this year.

“So far the volume [from Peru] has been very similar to last year,” he said. “If you analyze it, it is almost exactly like last year. There are rumors from Peru that production will be down, but I don’t see that. And there should be more out of Baja California.”

Ramirez said support from the retail sector has been strong and it usually gets even better as the price on asparagus drops once the volume increases in late August or early September. Overall, he is bullish on remaining a major factor in the U.S. asparagus deal as “demand keeps growing.”

Interestingly, Ramirez said there are two different markets for grass depending upon location. On this particular day, he said the West Coast market was $2-3 higher than the East Coast market, indicating greater demand from West Coast consumers.

Altar specializes in the traditional green asparagus though it does offer some purple and white packs on a very limited basis.

“I’d say almost 99.9 percent of our business is for green grass,” he said. “We have no new packs this year but we have noticed an increasing demand for the bag deal. That’s getting more popular.”

New on Altar’s sales desk this year is Jaime Ramirez (no relation to Chris), who is concentrating on the firm’s wet vegetable SKUs.