February 18, 2015

Labor Issues, Weather
Change the Landscape
for Fresh Produce

Unusual weather and labor unrest are both affecting the food you see in our Markets, and on your table.

The contract dispute between West Coast dockworkers and a maritime association of companies continues to play a significant role in supply issues for several items that must be brought by vessel from South American during our winter. Between the apparent slowdown and weekend shutdowns of ports, we are seeing some disruption in bananas, grapes, blueberries, mangoes, pineapple, melons and selected stone fruits. Fortunately, we have a relationship with Family Tree Farms and they have begun to harvest their new crop of blueberries in Mexico. That helps us not to rely on fruit from Chile that needs to come by ship. These Mexico blueberries are about 4,000 miles closer to home and, because they’re a new crop, they have far better texture and flavor. Our first deliveries arrived in our Markets on Valentine’s Day.

Then there’s the weather. This oddly warm weather we’re enjoying in the western part of the country, coupled with record snow fall throughout the eastern part (that they’re not enjoying so much), creates an abundance of product that must be moved on the West Coast. This is a huge win for us here in the Northwest. East Coast buyers typically apply extra pressure on what would normally be limited supplies this time of year, which drives up our costs and, subsequently, retail costs.  But this year, because of limited access for consumers in the east, demand is down. That has created opportunities for us to be able to promote items that wouldn’t normally be abundant enough to promote this time of year. But it won’t last forever. At some point, the East will get a break and thaw out and those folks will need to restock their shelves.

The best-eating fruits in our Markets right now are in the citrus category. You might remember that the 2014 citrus season was thwarted by a December freeze – some growers lost more than half their crop. We have had a stellar season this year with the best of the best in the Markets as we speak.

Sumo Mandarins are going strong after an early start – we expect them to end early, as well. We think we can get through the Easter holiday, but can’t offer a guarantee!  You really can’t go wrong with any citrus at this time but special mention should be made for the Melogold Grapefruit, Harbor Island Grapefruit, seedless Navel Oranges and the variety Mandarin Oranges that are in our Markets.

Also, check out organic citrus selection. I expect the organic side of this category will end sooner than we would like this year.

A new crop of asparagus from Mexico is already here and, as usual for any region’s early spring crop, is sweeter than at any other time. The weather has been so warm this winter that we will even see our first organic California-grown asparagus on arrive this week. If this weather continues, we might even see Washington-grown asparagus by the end of March – that would be a first, as far as I can remember.

Hass Avocados have begun to transition from growing areas in Mexico to California. This transition typically takes a few weeks to complete while the fruit in California increases in oil content. It’s the oil in the Hass Avocados that gives then that creamy texture and great flavor, not to mention health benefits that have been getting a lot of press lately.

What’s on the horizon? A new crop of Green Globe Artichokes from Castroville, Calif., for one.  As always, we’ll get the largest chokes possible. Also, look for sweet onions from Mexico – but we’ll stay with the Mayan Sweets for a bit so those new onions can properly cure. In my opinion, the Mayan sweet onions we offer in the winter are right up there with the eating quality of the Vidalia and Walla Walla sweet onions that will arrive in late spring and summer.

We hear that some California growing regions already have cherries beginning to bloom! I hate to say it, but this is not good. This means the trees have not had sufficient chilly hours to rest between seasons. If the weather suddenly returns to normal, we run the risk of frost and Bloom Drop wiping out the season. I hate to end on a bad note, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that it will all unfold into a great summer fruit season.

Have a great day! Joe


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