U.S. suppliers receive first batch of Argentine lemons in 17 years

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U.S. suppliers receive first batch of Argentine lemons in 17 years

U.S.-based suppliers have announced the arrival of the first shipment of Argentine lemons after a 17-year hiatus in the market. 

New Jersey-based Vision Import Group and Florida-based Seald Sweet are welcoming the consignments, which were made possible after the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided not to renew a stay on imports in May last year.

The first load left from the world's top producing country in mid-April, with four Argentine packaging firms currently permitted to export to the U.S. – Latin Lemon, Citromax, Argenti Lemon and Ledesma.

Argentine Citrus Federation (Federcitrus) president José Carbonell told Fresh Fruit Portal on Tuesday that various shipments have been made over recent weeks and around 100 metric tons (MT) of fruit had arrived so far.

He said more shipments will be carried out this year but explained that protocols requiring the lemons to be picked green would put a cap on the length of the export season.

The fruit will this year only be sold through distributors, and so far prices have been slightly higher than expected, he said.

"This fruit has been received well and everything is going as planned," he said.

Vision Import Group co-owner Ronnie Cohen said the fruit was still in the port pending the final release by the USDA, but he expected it would be in the warehouse by Thursday.

He said the company had a "moderate program" this year with Citromax, and expected Argentine shippers would send limited volumes in their first year.

"I think they really want to do a good job and fulfill all of the protocol that's needed to come here. They don't want to wait 17 years then rush to market and have it closed off again," he said.

Vision Produce's supplies will be sold in the Northeast this year, and Cohen believed the lemons would compete well with fruit from the West Coast.

He described Argentina's reentrance into the U.S. lemon market as "long overdue" and said that production issues in the U.S. such as water and labor availability opened up market opportunities for foreign suppliers.

"There's a changing dynamic. Especially for citrus, everything's moving south in my opinion - either going to Mexico, Peru, Argentina or Uruguay. There are other countries that can grow citrus and they can supplement some of our demand here," he said.

Cohen said Argentine lemons are the "missing link" for Vision Produce, which does not have a domestic program but does receive Mexican lemons from around July/August through December/January, which transitions to Spanish fruit until April/May.

"That's where Argentina falls in, at least currently. They can go until July in a perfect world, but right now there are some specific protocols that Argentina has to fill, so I think we're a little squeezed with the window," he said.

"But I think over the next couple of years they’ll make some possible changes to the current protocol as the market opens up again and I think we’ll be able to extend the season on either side, so there'll be a good transition period between our other countries that supply us." 

Meanwhile, Seald Sweet CEO Mayda Sotomayor said she was "thrilled" by the arrival of Argentine lemons, noting the company had been one of the first importers of the fruit before market access was revoked in 2000.

"For 17 years, we have never given up hope and have continued contact and meetings with the growers. We held the belief that science would triumph and we would once again gain admissibility to the U.S. market," she said.

She said Argentina's supply fills a real demand in the U.S. market, highlighting that per-capital consumption has more than doubled over the last four decades.

"The advantage of Argentina’s program is that we can provide fresh product to the marketplace instead of storage product. Retailers are requesting this as consumers increasingly demand affordable fresh lemons," she said.

The lemons from Argentina arrive via the Port of Philadelphia and Seald Sweet expects consistent shipments through mid-July.


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