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US (WA): Port dispute slows apple exports

A large apple crop in Washington means that the state’s growers will look to export a big portion of their crop this season. But a labour dispute between port operators and longshoreman has slowed the handling of containers through the ports, and could potentially lead to supply gaps for countries in Central America, South America and Asia, where Washington fruit is sent this time of year.

“The situation is a huge mess,” said Randy Steensma of Honey Bear Tree Fruit. “We’ve got containers full of apples that have been sitting at the port for a week because they haven’t been loaded yet. If things are running normally, the vessel is loaded and gone in 72 hours.” Refrigerated containers and the high quality nature of fruit destined for export means that apples in limbo at the port likely won’t spoil, but the delay in getting fruit out quickly could lead to supply gaps in some markets abroad.

“Buyers book on a weekly basis, so they will miss a week or two,” said Steensma. “We ship to Colombia, Honduras and Panama, so there will be gaps there, and also in some Asian markets, like Hong Kong, India and Jakarta, which is a big destination for us right now.” Shippers are hoping for a quick resolution to the labour dispute, which has intensified as the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have tried to agree on a new contract. The spillover from those negotiations has resulted in delays at the port. Though a resolution is urgently sought because of the broad commerce ramifications, Washington’s apple growers, who are sitting on a large crop, have been counting more on exports this year than in previous years.

“In a normal year, about a third of the state’s apple crop goes overseas,” explained Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission. “However, this year, with the large crop we have and with the large apple crops in other states, we’re thinking upwards of 50 percent of our crop will have to go to export.” Up to now, Washington was on course to have a strong export season, with the state’s apple exports up 50 percent over the previous year. The state’s growers also gained direct access to China for their Red and Golden Delicious varieties, but the port problems haven’t allowed growers to fully take advantage of that.

“This is a big issue, not just for us, but for others as well,” said Lyons. “We just hope this will be quickly resolved.”

Winter storm shutting down Northeast, slows produce

Yet another fierce storm has hit the Northeast, this one shutting down ports and closing produce terminal markets early. The storm was expected to blast Boston on Thursday night and continue throughout much of New England throughout Thursday and Friday.

The Produce News reached Todd Penza, sales representative for Pinto Brothers Inc., located on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, on Thursday morning at about 9:30. “We have a crew here because we have a truck to unload,” said Penza. “The ports being closed do not really affect us because we don’t handle imports. However, it does affect us in getting our staff in, trucks with more product in and product out to customers, so everyone is affected in some way.”

He said he didn’t know how many stores on the Philadelphia market were open on Thursday morning, but that some had closed.

“We’ll keep at it as much as possible,” Penza added. “We need to be ready for the weekend. But for today, the minute we’re finished we’re out of here.”

Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach, located in Secaucus, NJ, told The Produce News at about 10 a.m. that people left in his office were also heading out soon.

“We have already sent just about everyone home,” he said. “Until the ports are open and we start getting product again, we’ll be selling from our present inventory, which for the most part has, fortunately, a healthy shelf life with items like garlic and ginger.”

He said that the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, was open on Wednesday night, and word was out that it planned to open again on Thursday night. But mixed forecasts that included more snow, icy conditions and icy rain — not to mention port openings or closings — may determine who opens and who doesn’t.

“We at least have the means to work virtually today,” he pointed out optimistically. “A decade ago we would not have had the ability to stay in touch with our staff, suppliers or customers. Today we can at least keep each other informed from our homes or wherever we are waiting out the storm as to when we’ll be functioning again.”

Steve Koster, spokesperson for E. Armata, located on the Hunts Point Terminal Market, told The Produce News that the company did have staff in on Thursday, and it was selling what it had on hand. “But weather conditions are worsening,” he said. “Lack of product is looming, as there are trucks and rail shipments already backed up from the West. The ports in the Northeast will probably not get their shipments to the market until early next week. With the Hunts Point market closed Monday, older and new shipments will be hitting at the same time. What a challenging winter!”

On Thursday, Feb. 13, issued an alert that stated that due to the severity of the predicted storm that night and expected to continue through Friday, container terminals in the port of NY/NJ would be closed on Thursday. The port stated that it would advise on Friday at 1 p.m. as to the gate opening hours for Friday morning, adding that individual terminal websites would also post additional information as it became available.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Supervalu Slows Sales Erosion in Q1

MINNEAPOLIS — Supervalu slowed the pace of its sales declines in the first quarter and delivered better bottom-line results than anticipated as pricing and operations initiatives began to take hold at the beleaguered retailer. Although identical-store sales at Supervalu’s retail and Save-A-Lot divisions declined during the quarter, Sam Duncan, chief executive officer, emphasized that the declines improved sequentially from the fourth quarter. ID sales at retail stores, down …

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