Asparagus markets in flux as Peru ramps up

Importers reported fluctuating asparagus markets as Peruvian volumes ramp up.

Peruvian asparagus markets were hard to predict as of mid-August, said Jeff Friedman, president of CarbAmericas Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

"I'm unsure where this thing is going to go. No one truly has a grasp on it," Friedman said.

The week of Aug. 8, markets climbed quickly, only to come skidding to a halt by the middle of the month, Friedman said.

"There was a lot of excitement, but when it got high, retailers said, 'No, we don't need it,' and it hit a wall."

On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $26.75-27.75 for 11-pound cartons of large green bunched asparagus from Peru, up from $24-25 last year at the same time.

Significant shipments by boat the weeks of Aug. 8 and Aug. 15 have had a calming influence on the market, Friedman said.

With consumers squeezing in last-minute vacations before school started back up, demand was down in August, Friedman said, but that should change soon.

"Late next week, or certainly by the first of September, there should be more interest."

Season-to-date volumes were up as of Aug. 17 for Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

"We've been moving a lot of product and demand is good for our foodservice, retail and club store customers," Eagle said.

Still, Eagle characterized mid-August volumes as just "moderate," with shipments likely to build through September and into October.

Southern Selects is shipping "good" volumes of white asparagus and fluctuating volumes, depending on the season, of purple asparagus from Peru this year, Eagle said, with packs including value-added microwaveable tips, tenders and club packs.

The quality of Peruvian asparagus was starting to improve by mid-August, Friedman said.

"The cooler weather's helping," Friedman said. "Tips have more contact, and there's a lot less seediness." Eagle reported good quality and sizing on the small side, which is

typical for the early Peruvian deal.

In addition to Peru, CarbAmericas was sourcing light volumes from Mexico the week of Aug. 15.

"There's a little asparagus in McAllen (Texas) from Mexico, but that market's day to day. It's coming to an end," Friedman said.

Southern Selects expects to begin sourcing from Mexico again in December, Eagle said.