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US importers enjoy healthy Italian chestnut season
The chestnut crop out of Italy has been doing very well this season as a cold winter set up good volume and quality, however dry conditions during summer meant sizing has been a bit off. The season began in early October and will imports into the US will continue into the New Year.
"We've imported chestnuts from Italy since the first week of October," said Michael Maxwell, of Procacci Brothers in Pennsylvania. "This season has been great for quality. Europe had a cold winter and this allowed the trees to have many dormant hours. Therefore, they were in a healthy condition coming into the season. Additionally, the cold winter diminished the number of wasps that have been affecting the crop the last few years. This allowed the trees to produce a good quantity of chestnuts. Sizing has been a bit off due to a dry summer, but overall the mass is there. Volume is definitely up over last year."
Slow start in US market
Fall has been a little warmer than usual in many parts of the US, which caused the sale of chestnuts to have a slow start. However, the market is picking up now as Thanksgiving approaches when the bulk of chestnuts in the United States are sold.
"There was a slow start in the US market during October as temperature have been above average in many parts which has meant that not as many people have been buying chestnuts," said Maxwell. "But the market has been picking up in November as the weather has been colder. Sales have also been driven by the Thanksgiving Holiday, which is where we sell two thirds of our chestnuts. People traditionally have been using chestnuts in turkey stuffing. During the 1800's there were native chestnut trees in the United States but they were all killed off by blight and now we have to import them."
Prices soften as supplies rise
The early season chestnuts are generally flown in to jump start the market, followed shortly by sea freighted product. Despite many of the smaller chestnuts staying in Europe this year due to a strong market there, a rise in supplies to the United States mean prices will come down shortly.
"Europe has been enjoying a good domestic market and the smaller sized chestnuts have largely remained there, being used mainly for processing," Maxwell continued. "The market has fluctuated and prices were on the high side early in the US season because the product was air freighted in. As we see sea containers start to enter the market, those prices should come down. We sell our chestnuts in units of 25lb, 10lb and 1lb packs. The 1lb units are new for us this season, and they also come with roasting instructions for customers."
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