Hard-hitting air freight rates are impacting asparagus pricing. “Prices are relatively strong right now because of the cost of air freight,” says Jan McDaniels of Redondo Beach, CA-based Gourmet Trading Co. “The airlines have started lifting their rates for November-December which happens every year. But it seems more aggressive this year because of the pressure for freight from other South American countries.” This includes blueberries hailing from Chile, as well as other non-produce items. “It’s whoever is able to pay more money for the space on the planes,” says McDaniels. “Rates are in line with where they were at the same time last year but if they continue to climb as they did for November and December 2015, we anticipate the air freight portion of the costing to continue to be strong which naturally holds up the FOB prices.”

And those rates continue to rise almost daily. “It’s very difficult at this time of the year to put out advance pricing at a level that allows growers to pick and pack at the level that they’re comfortable with and a price that is attractive to the retailers,” she says. 

Demand likely exceeds supply 
Meanwhile, McDaniels also sees a shift in supply as well. In Mexico for example, growers started the season two weeks early and in turn, are ending their seasons early. “Peru also has less volume right now. I believe it’s running at about 25 percent less than the same time last year because of reduced acreage,” she says. “Growers haven’t replaced their asparagus crops. They’re planting other crops that give them more of an income quicker or a crop that needs less water. I believe they’re replacing them with mangoes, avocados, some grapes and bell peppers. Anything but asparagus that takes two years to get a commercial crop.” 

Growing interest in purple
That said, despite the reduced acreage, Peru is providing a variety that is starting to take off: purple asparagus. “Purple asparagus isn’t really a mainstream retail item yet. It’s more something we get demand for from foodservice accounts, rather than retail,” she says. “But that’s not such a bad thing because we’re only into our second or third year of these new fields so the plantings are still young and there’s not a lot of volume anyways.”

For more information:
Jan McDaniels
Gourmet Trading Co.
+1 310 216 7575