Supply of fresh produce grown in South America, Mexico and Canada should be arriving to stores on time and in promotional quantities for the 2022 season.
Weather in Mexico and South America has been good for growing conditions and no major delays are anticipated. Greenhouse growing in Canada allows for consistent conditions for quality crops year-round.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which represents growers and importers of Mexican fruits and vegetables, said there has ceased to be an out-of-season window in Mexico for greenhouse vegetables.
“There are so many microclimates, at various elevations and locations, that it is possible to meet market demand year-round, for practically any item,” he said. “When the US domestic growers are in full harvest across the continent, we tend to see Mexican fruit and vegetable imports decline in volume. During the winter, Mexican greenhouse produce is critical to the US market.”
However, at any given time, a hard freeze or even tropical storms could wreak havoc on the limited Southeastern US vegetable production, Jungmeyer said.
“Mexican protected agriculture is key to food security for the whole continent,” he added. “The innovation in varieties, such as colored bell peppers, fancy cucumbers and squash, and dedication to high packing standards help create market demand for Mexican protected agriculture items.”
In particular, the berry growing season has been going well with no major disruptions in weather in Mexico or South America, said Jason Fung, vice president of categories and strategy for Vancouver, B.C.-based Oppy.
“We look forward to bringing all the winter offerings of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, with a strong push in the first quarter,” he said.
South American outlook
Stone fruit has been growing excellently this season in South America, making for outstanding brix levels, said Eric Coty, Oppy vice president of South American operations.
“Slightly cooler weather has fruit delayed just 5-7 days later than last year, with chilled nights attributing to better color on peaches and nectarines,” he said. “No freeze, rain or any weather issues. Cherry quality has been excellent and the fruit currently on the tree looks to be larger sizing than last year.”
Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) and director of CAIA, San Carlos, Calif., said there have been no labor obstacles in Chile that would impact fruit exports.
“Despite being at an initial stage, harvests of peaches and nectarines have been carried out normally in early orchards in the growing zone (Valparaíso to O'Higgins), without delays in the start date, but a little behind in harvest volume,” she said.
The peach and nectarine harvest began with three to four varieties, while the plum harvest began in mid-December. For now, the main varieties are Early Majestic in peaches and Zee Fire in nectarines, Brux said. The quality of the fruit is good, with nice sizing, color, soluble solids and firmness.
Chile is the world’s largest exporter of cherries, shipping more than 70.5 million boxes around the globe last season. Estimate for this year is 72.4 million boxes, Brux said. Harvested varieties were primarily Santina and Royal Dawn, followed by Bing.
“No problems like lack of pickers or weather events have been reported, so these factors have not affected the quality of the fruit,” she said.
Coty said that overall, imported cherries are a rapidly growing category with dramatic growth coming from Chile.
“While in the past, Chilean producers have concentrated on the Asian market, they have committed to growing in North America this next season,” he said. “Oppy will also receive cherries from Argentina and New Zealand.”
North America is expected to receive a substantial increase on import cherries this season with peaches and nectarines arriving in similar quantities to last year, with promotable volumes February through April, Coty added.
Promotional activity for Chilean cherries in the United States will be heaviest in early January and continue through February.
CFFA’s new cherry promotion campaign for this season is “Cherrish Every Moment.”
“It’s a fun and playful line that reminds us to enjoy and hold dear the simple everyday moments in life, and that by adding cherries to the mix they become even more special,” Brux said, adding that the group is developing point-of-sale and social media assets to support the campaign.
As for blueberries, the Chilean Blueberry Committee projects global export volumes of 117,000 tons, similar to the total exported the previous season. Total volume exported globally through Week 48 was 8,124 tons, 22% less than last season. Of this volume, 1,673 tons of blueberries (21%) were organic.
Looking at the United States specifically, 3,290 tons have been shipped to the country through Week 48. Of this volume, 1,637 tons (49,8%) was organic. The US is, by far, the primary destination for organic blueberries from Chile. To date, Chile has shipped 97.8% of its organic blueberries to the US.
“There have been some delays due to logistics and labor shortages, but we expect significant volumes to be reaching the US in early January,” Brux said.
The main exported variety in Week 48 was Duke (27% of exported volume in Week 48), followed by Suzie Blue and Star. These three varieties comprise 65% of the blueberries exported in Week 48, she said.
Varietal replacement is a reality in Chile, with new varieties reaching 25% of total volume, Brux said. Organic blueberries are also growing in volume, with roughly 18% of total exports expected to be organic. The United States receives a greater allocation of organic, so organic volume shipped to this market could reach 28% of the total.
“The biggest challenges to this season in Chile are the availability of manpower and port logistics,” she said. “Of course, the port issues in the US will further complicate matters. None of these problems are new, so the exporters and importers are continuing to work through them and take whatever steps possible to deliver the freshest, best tasting blueberries to shoppers.”
Brux said the CFFA is excited to be returning to in-store promotions this season and looks forward to showcasing the “superior flavor” of Chilean blueberries through in-store sampling.
“While we kicked off our promotions in late December and continued into early March, we will run numerous in-store and online promotions during February for everything from Valentine’s Day to Heart Health Month to National Pancake Day,” she said.
Chilean Blueberries are heart-check certified, so the group plans to promote that point whenever and wherever possible, Brux concluded.
Based on current protocols, Chilean plums are not permitted in the United States, with the exception of irradiated supplies, of which Oppy will have a small volume, Coty said.
While the US Department of Agriculture’s protocol for Chilean plums to the US is currently under review, Oppy and its partners are hoping its proposal of systems approach will be successful, he added.
“In the meantime, Chilean plums are allowed into Canada,” Coty said. “Additionally, we at Oppy are very excited to be importing South African plums this season for the first time ever.”
There are two big trends that have continued to develop throughout the pandemic that are expected to grow considerably in 2022—snacking vegetables and greenhouse-grown organics, said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Pure Flavor, Leamington, Ontario, Canada.
Pure Flavor recently tripled its total acreage in Leamington, Veillon said, so that it can provide retailers with a consistent supply of vegetables year-round.
“Part of that investment also included outfitting our greenhouses with high-pressure-sodium (HPS) lighting, so that each plant can grow in optimal conditions even while the sun sets earlier this time of year,” he said.
The company’s best-sellers include Cloud 9 bite-sized fruity tomatoes, Aurora Bites mini sweet peppers and Poco Bites cocktail cucumbers.
“Since launching Cloud 9 tomatoes early in 2021, we’ve seen demand pick up as more retailers add this premium snacking tomato to their shelves,” Veillon said.
Aaron Quon, Oppy’s executive director of greenhouse and Canadian category development, said the group is currently growing, packing and shipping both tomatoes and long English cucumbers grown under lights in Canada.
“Our new winter crops have started, and the first few sets of fruit have been very good quality and size,” he said. “We look forward to an excellent season.”
And in Summer 2022, Oppy is excited to bring the company’s first vertical farming partnership to the market.
“UP Vertical Farms is Canada’s first touchless, high-density indoor vertical farm for growing customizable baby leafy greens with the goal of becoming the world’s largest and most sustainable vertical farm by 2023,” Quon said. “It will grow crops at 350 times the yield of conventional farming using 99% less land, 99% less water, 99% less fertilizer, 95% less plastic for packaging and zero pesticides.”
On the domestic front, Fresh2o Growers, a hydroponic greenhouse grower in Stevensburg, Va., which produces hydroponic head lettuces mostly, also offers year-round greenhouse-grown produce.
“Domestically, we produce consistently year-round,” said Mary-Scott DeMarchis, sales manager for Fresh2o Growers. “The summer season is definitely our peak growing season, but our internal environmental controls allow us to grow throughout the winter.”
The company is launching organic salad blends and convenient cut-lettuce items. “We are excited to add to our already valuable offerings,” DeMarchis concluded.