The US asparagus supply is currently coming from Caborca, Mexico. The Caborca season starts in late January and runs through part of April. While the volumes and quality coming out of Caborca are good, the market is experiencing difficulties.
Volumes destined for Asia redirected to US
Jeff Friedman, President of CarbAmericas, says: “Because of the issues surrounding the coronavirus, the buyers in Asia are buying a lot less asparagus than they usually do. There are customers there who usually buy around two loads a week who are now only taking ten pallets a week. With the reduced travelling, empty restaurants, and empty hotels, they just don’t need as much product as they usually do. And all of this asparagus is being redirected to the US.
On top of this, the Spanish asparagus season has started a bit earlier than usual, which means even more product is entering the markets. Friedman says: “The pricing is historically low right now, and anything that is being shipped off-contract is losing money. It’s unfortunate because the quality of the asparagus is really excellent – it is almost 100% green. The Caborca region is a great area and always produces high quality asparagus.”
Change in consumer buying habits
There has been increased movement for bagged produce programs, according to Friedman. “The consumers are currently often preferring bagged produce over the naked produce because they think it might be ‘cleaner.’ So, we have been seeing a change in consumer purchase habits. The majority of the asparagus is packaged with rubber bands, but we do offer some bagged organic, a 15 by 12 oz bag of organic asparagus and a 2-lb bag of conventional asparagus.”
“The retailers are evaluating what the best course of action will be – the hearty fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, broccoli, etc. continue to move but anything with a short shelf life is being reevaluated. Overall, it is a bit too early to make any conclusions. The retailers are closely monitoring the shopping habits and are using this to make plans, but it is still too soon to tell what the effects will be,” Friedman explains.
California season uncertain
After the Caborca season ends, there is a window for Peru to enter production. “Normally California will begin around the end of the Caborca season, but because of the issues in the market it remains unsure what they will do. If the prices remain this low, it might be better to keep their fields closed. But this is still weeks away, and anything can happen before then,” Friedman concludes.