Importers of Chilean blueberries look forward to a smooth transition from Argentina, with strong demand and promotable volumes. Michael Schiro, berry and clementine category manager for Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y., expects the Argentinean blueberry season to wind down the first or second week of December, just in time for Chile to take over. “It looks like it will be a nice, seamless transition to Chile,” he said. Vandenberg expects to receive its first air shipments from Chile in the first or second week of December, with the first vessel expected to follow in mid-December, Schiro said. Those are comparable to starting dates in recent years, though later than traditional beginnings of the deal, he said. “It used to be that the first Chilean came in the first days of December,” Schiro said. “I think it’s gotten later in recent years.” Mother Nature cooperative As of mid-October, the growing weather in Chilean blueberry growing regions has been good, Schiro said. “The season’s ahead of schedule,” he said. “The weather’s been good. They’ve had some rains the past couple of weeks, which were needed.” Vandenberg expects to have steady supplies of Chilean blueberries through the first couple of weeks of April, when the company transitions to Florida-grown berries. Mother Nature would likely push back the anticipated start date of the Chilean blueberry deal this season, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC. “There has been cooler weather, and some weather-related damage in a few areas,” Bocock said. “It’s delaying (the start of the deal) a week to two weeks from what we originally thought.” Naturipe expects the first vessel shipment at the end of November or beginning of December, he said. Greater volumes Once the deal gets going, however, it should be a good season, Bocock predicts. “We’re expecting a 15% industrywide increase,” he said. “Overall, the crop looks good.” Bocock also expected strong demand throughout the Chilean season to match those extra volumes. Peak volumes should be available the last ten days of December, all of January and the first three weeks of February, he said. Strong retail demand should be complemented in 2012-13 by strong demand from restaurants, schools, institutions and other foodservice channels, Bocock said. “There’s a lot of good interest from foodservice, which is exciting for our industry,” he said. Foodservice demand is strong across the board, Bocock said. Lake Success, N.Y.-based William H. Kopke Jr. Inc. expects to sharply increase its imports of Chilean blueberries this season, said Peter Kopke, the company’s president. Kopke expects to receive its first fruit by air in November and by boat in early December, Kopke said.