Demand for fresh produce specialties has remained high during the pandemic, thanks to more people trying out new foods at home.
And with fall here and winter around the corner, that demand should only increase, said Robert Schueller, director of media relations for Los Angeles-based specialties shipper World Variety Produce, which markets product under the Melissa’s label.
“We’re getting into our strongest time of the year, with the ‘cooking holidays’ coming up,” he said. “And I don’t see anything on the horizon to slow the growth of our category.”
Slower growth, maybe not. But Melissa’s and other specialty produce shippers are feeling the impact of slower movement of product, thanks to the logistics headaches that were plaguing the entire economy in the last quarter of 2021.
Some commodities, like blood oranges, were held up in Southern California’s Long Beach port. Others, like figs from New Zealand, Melissa’s doesn’t expect to have any of this season.
“I live near the port, so I see all the boats waiting out there,” Schueller said. “We’re becoming a little more careful about what we bring in. If you decide to air freight it instead, that can double the price.”
Melissa’s expects to be more reliant on domestic production and specialties from Mexico, Central America and Canada this winter to compensate for the container shipments it can’t wait for.
The company is also fortunate to source about 1,500 items, so if some can’t ship, it’s easier to compensate. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be headaches in the coming months.
“There are going to be delays, and there are going to be gaps. And it’s also affecting cardboard for boxes, labels, labor, everything. But we’re not interested in raising our prices.”
Citrus is among the items that can sit off coast on a container ship for a few extra days. That’s a good thing for Melissa’s, which leans heavily not only on its domestic but also on imported specialty citrus deals in the winter. Less hardy fruit, however, like currants, berries, figs and baby kiwifruit, can’t wait that long.
“They just won’t make it,” Schueller said. “It will either be air-freight or do without.”
Tropical fruits, baby potatoes, chili peppers, organics and value-added convenience items are some of the other specialty categories that should stay hot in the coming year, Schueller said.
Melissa’s is also expecting strong demand this winter for sapurano mangoes, butterscotch pears from South Korea and a host of variety citrus from California, including meyer lemons, key limes, variety tangerines, blood oranges, cara cara oranges and varietal grapefruits.