Frozen Berry Demand and Prices Generally on Rise in US

Peter Skolnick, president of Imperial Frozen Foods, has provided an update on the frozen berry, cherry and peach market. The Monterey, California-based company specializes in supplying frozen fruit to private label packers and industrial further processors. His observations on current conditions follow.

IQF strawberry cold storage holdings in the United States reflect increased demand. The approximately 165 million pounds in refrigerated warehouses as of July 31, 2014, versus 203 million pounds on hand on July 31, 2013, amounts to a decrease or shortage of 38 million pounds.

Since deliveries from fields to processors are about the same as last year, this translates to an increase in demand.  Processors anticipated this development and increased the field price of strawberries from 40 cents to 50 cents a pound early in the season.

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Chilean Strawberries
Chile has ideal soil and weather conditions for the production of berries, an advantage that allows the country to maintain or increase its share of the world market for frozen strawberries.

Major farming clusters are primarily in the Metropolitan and Maule regions.  According to estimates by the National Statistics Institute (INE), these areas account for approximately 80% of the nation’s strawberry production base. Camarosa and Chandler are the main varieties grown

In 2013 Chile produced 56,276 tons of strawberries, 65% of which was consumed domestically (90% fresh, 10% frozen). Frozen dominated the 35% export tonnage market (77% frozen, 16 % fresh, with the remainder in juices and canned products). Japan and the USA are the biggest buyers, each taking 21% of the nation’s strawberry exports.

Red Raspberries
The harvest of IQF quality red raspberries in the US Pacific Northwest was good. Chile has led the world with the highest pricing in years, and quotes for Northwest raspberries reflects the world price.  Pricing remains firm, up about 5% from 2013 even though supplies are up slightly.

IQF quality red raspberries are difficult to harvest and process. As a result, farmers in the United States are bullish. Organic IQF raspberries are difficult to grow commercially in the Northwest due to rain and the inability to apply fungicides on crops.

US Blueberries
At first glance, the overall volume of blueberries in cold storage seems to be ample. There were 172 million pounds in refrigerated warehouses as of July 31, 2014, compared to 166 million pounds as of July 31, 2013 – an increase of about 4%.  The kicker is that Michigan has had less volume this season. As of July 31, 2014, cold storage holdings of blueberries in Michigan was 42 million pounds, about 14% less than during 2013.  This means that Michigan is short and the Pacific Northwest is long, which results in a higher price in Michigan and a stable price in the Pacific Northwest.  Northwest blueberry holdings are at 92 million pounds in 2014, compared to 86 million in 2013.  

Argentina Blueberry Exports
Argentina, the most important player on the early fruit harvesting scene in the southern hemisphere, is getting ready to deliver the season’s first shipments of blueberries to US and European markets.

While the nation’s output has averaged 15,000 tons per annum in recent years, yields are expected to range between 16,000 and 16,500 tons this year – if the weather holds up. Almost 90% of export volume is shipped between September and November.

Sweet Cherries
Supply to frozen processors in the US is short due to strong fresh sales. Cold Storage numbers show that there were 13.5 million pounds in inventory as of July 31, 2014, compared to 23 million pounds in storage on July 31, 2013.  

Peaches
Growers in California have pulled out peach trees in favor of almonds. The trees that remain lack water, and labor is a huge challenge.  Cold storage numbers are down about 6%.  Pricing is up about 15%. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to buy peaches even though there is a shortage, having purchased 6 million pounds for the school lunch program. This has been a perennial event, which seems to go on whether the crop is long or short.  Conventional wisdom says the USDA is supposed to buy only when there is an oversupply.