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Gourmet Trading heading into sweet spot for blueberry promotions

From mid-January through mid-February, Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading is expected to have “good promotable volume” of blueberries from multiple sources for retailers, according to Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager for the firm.

He told The Produce News in mid-December that during the first quarter of 2019 the diversified supply should work well for the blueberry specialist. During the January through March time frame, Peruvian shippers will be at the back end of their season, Chilean producers will be in the core of their season and, depending upon weather, Florida may start its harvest.

b2 Fiszman said that outside factors always play a role in supplies, but he believes Gourmet Trading is in a very good position because of the many top-notch blueberry growers that are part of its program.

“We work with a very diverse base of growers across multiple regions in order to minimize issues,” he said. “Weather is weather and produce is produce, so you get used to dealing with situations. The best you can do is to work on a solid program managing the risks. It is easy to say, hard to get there. I am proud that our team has built a unique grower base that allows our company to steadily supply our customers.”

That doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing. Chile had a major hailstorm in November, however Fiszman said the inclement weather affected cherries and other crops more so than blueberries.

He also noted that a cold spring ensued in the central region of Chile, and through late December spot showers were occurring almost every week as growers were harvesting. “We’ll see what this means in the upcoming weeks, but I am afraid it could have a direct impact on the fruit,” he said, but adding that there will be promotable supplies in January and February in several different pack sizes.

As the crop volume increases, retailers alter their pack size buying habits, but there are regional differences. Fiszman said six-ounce packs are more popular at the front end of the season but most East Coast retailers switch to pints by Christmas. “Some will do it a week before, some others a week after. Then the pint format is the most common format through the Chilean season,” he said.

Western retailers play it a bit differently. “The West Coast actually prefers, for the most part, to stay in the six-ounce format and only a few move to pints. However both coasts love the 18-ounce pack,” he said. “It is a harder format to pack, fruit quality needs to be better than average formats and supply sometimes is not as regular as you would like. We are specialists on this format. We have the right mix of growers and packinghouses to take care of this year-round. Our customers appreciate that. Consumers love this pack style and we see more and more demand on 18-ounces.”

Gourmet Trading also continues to develop sources for organic blueberries as the demand for this category increases. Fiszman said supply of both organic and conventional fruit continues to grow. “Organic fruit could be tougher but we have managed our way the last few years to develop a longer season with fewer growers that know exactly what they do,” he said. “We have supported them through the years and they have been super loyal. We see more and more demand for organics and we are investing in our company farms to satisfy the needs of our customers.”

One other factor in the Chilean blueberry deal that is a bit different this year, according to Fiszman, is the transportation situation. “We haven’t seen as much need for airfreight shipments from Chile this season, as in the past,” he said, adding that “more fruit is coming by boat and vessels with containers should arrive earlier this campaign.”

He said the added cost of airfreight is the limiting factor. Overall, Fiszman emphasized that an excellent Chilean season is on tap.

“Chile should have good volume at competitive prices earlier than last season, which should help to build momentum and carry on demand for longer weeks than last season,” he concluded.