Heading into the first fall holiday, most consumers won’t see organic strawberries on their Thanksgiving table, but they might see some organic blueberries from South America.
David Weinstein, director of procurement for Heath & Lejeune, a Los Angeles-based full-line organic produce wholesaler, said that organic strawberries are in a seasonal gap. California’s volume is winding down, and the organic strawberry crop from Mexico is running a couple weeks later than usual because of cold weather.
David Weinstein, Director of Procurement, Heath & Lejeune
“Mexico is not expected to start shipping until mid-December,” Weinstein said this week. “There are some supplies coming out of Oxnard but not much else available on organics.”
The FOB price for a tray of California organic strawberries ranged from $50 to $54 this week, “which gives you a good indication of the supply situation. Right now, there just aren’t enough to go around,” he said.
“There are some [organic strawberry] supplies coming out of Oxnard but not much else available on organics.” - David Weinstein
Data compiled by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and distributed through the California Strawberry Commission’s home page bears this out. During the first week of October, California shipped almost 350,000 trays of organic strawberries. By the week ending November 12, volume had declined to about 100,000 trays—and was dropping very quickly.
Weinstein said there are supplies of organic blueberries from Peru, but the price is still relatively high, not lending to retail promotions. Pricing, however, should start to ease after Thanksgiving.
Kyla Oberman, marketing director at California Giant Berry Farms, confirmed there is currently a seasonal lull in organic strawberries and blueberries, with limited supplies of both crops through the end of the year.
Kyla Oberman, Marketing Director, California Giant Berry Farms
“But starting at the turn of the year, we will see volumes start to pick up and gain week over week,” she said, adding that promotable supplies of organic strawberries will be available for Easter (April 9), weather permitting.
The Chilean Blueberry Committee, which claims that Chile accounts for 75 percent of all the organic blueberries shipped to the US on an annual basis, reports that current supplies are very light, though they will pick up over the last five weeks of 2022.
“But starting at the turn of the year, we will see [organic strawberry and blueberry] volumes start to pick up and gain week over week.” - Kyla Oberman
The committee, together with the consulting firm iQonsulting, has estimated a volume of 98,228 tons of fresh blueberries from Chile for the 2022-2023 season. Shipments to the US market are expected to continue through February, with peak arrivals coming around the last week of December/first week of January. Volume should increase on a weekly basis throughout December. Trade promotions are slated to commence by early January and continue through February.
Total 2022-2023 season blueberry shipments from Chile will decline 8 percent from last year, but organic blueberry shipments are expected to increase. During the 2021-2022 season, 22 percent of all Chilean blueberries shipped to the US market were organic.
Chilean growers are focusing their efforts on growing better varieties and getting them to the United States in better shape and more quickly.
Andres Armstrong, Executive Director, Chilean Blueberry Committee
“Our number one priority is delivering the highest-quality blueberries to our international markets,” said Andres Armstrong, executive director of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, in a press release. “Planting and exporting the right varieties are key, but the industry is also strengthening logistics through new programs like the Blueberry Express. This service will begin in Week 49 (December 4-10) and continue throughout the 2022-23 season, with less than two weeks transit time to the US market. It guarantees the maintenance of the cold chain, which is crucial for protecting fruit quality.”
“Our number one priority is delivering the highest quality blueberries to our international markets.” - Andres Armstrong
In related news, the US Highbush Blueberry Council reported in its latest newsletter that fresh organic blueberry sales are on the rise. Using Nielsen scan data, the October retail report showed that the fresh organic segment was up by 24 percent in volume and 4 percent in dollars compared to October 2021. The smaller gain in dollars reflected a significant drop in the retail price from an average of $7.45 per pound in 2021 to $6.26 per pound for fresh organic berries in 2022. Percentage wise, the fresh organic segment outperformed conventional in both volume and dollars in terms of year-over-year growth.