Chile looking forward to better year for fruit exports
ANAHEIM, CA — An early-October freeze in fruit-growing regions in Chile is not expected to have a significant impact on export volume, according to officials at the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, known commonly by the acronym ASOEX.
Meeting with The Produce News during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention & Exposition, here, Ronald Bown, chairman of ASOEX, said he expects a full recovery after last year’s challenging season, when a freeze severely limited export volume and strikes at Chilean ports further exacerbated difficulties in the fruit trade.
“We expect a much better year this year,” said Bown. “Every year it is something, but the recent freeze was not as bad as last year, and we don’t expect the same difficulties with the strikes at the ports.”
The freeze last year was the biggest in 50 years, according to Bown, and it was the main factor in the 11.4 percent decrease in fruit exports, affecting mostly grapes, kiwifruit, stone fruit and cherries. Bown believes Chilean growers can make up for last year by virtue of the planned 5-15 percent increase in production.
Further, he said, “We are working very hard with the [Chilean] government to analyze problems in the past related to the port strike, and we expect to solve those problems, which were mostly labor issues.”
ASOEX is ramping up its efforts to reach additional markets, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Bown. It also wants to ship more product to Russia and other European markets. But he said the North American market remains a key destination for fruit exports.
“Global markets are increasingly more important for us, but the North American market remains the largest by far,” he said. For example, “70 percent of our blueberries go to North America.”
For its part, ASOEX does a good deal of outreach to maintain its preferred status among retailers in North America.
“Reliability and consistency are the key aspects that retailers seek,” said Bown. “Chile has been working with the trade for many years to establish solid relationships, and it has paid off. One of our strengths is that we have an excellent marketing staff to reach out to our customers. We meet with retailers of all sizes — from 10-store chains to 1,000-store chains — and they appreciate that we can offer the quality and volume they need.”
Prior to the wide acceptance of fruit from Chile, Bown recalled that there was pushback when shipments began to increase.
“But as we gained acceptance in the marketplace, people came to realize that more fruit on the market had the positive benefit of offering an opportunity to increase consumption,” he said. “Also, we offer a wide range of products that spans the entire fruit category, not just one or two items.”
Growth potential for kiwifruit
One area of focus for Chilean fruit exports this season is kiwifruit, according to Carlos Cruzat, president of the Comité del Kiwi, which promotes Chilean kiwifruit. His main quest is to offer preconditioned fruit that is sweet, flavorful and ready to eat.
“Growers and importers need to work together to give consumers a good eating experience so they come back to buy more,” he said. “It is important that consumers receive fruit that is ready to eat within one to two days.”
He cited a decline in consumption of green kiwifruit, as many countries have switched to gold-flesh fruit to meet the rising demand, especially in the Asian markets.
“Global volume of green kiwi is declining and will continue to do so,” he said. “So we have a challenge of maintaining that business, and to do that we need to add value, not just increase production. Offering preconditioned fruit is one way to add value.”
He said that it is important to please consumers in order to increase the category.
“We see big potential for green kiwi, but we need everyone to be on the same page,” said Cruzat. “We have been convincing growers that they should invest in green kiwi again, since it is not as labor-intensive and can be stored for a while, so the season can be extended. Virtually no other country is planting new green acreage. While it is not the most profitable item, it is good overall for the category and is a stable product for the entire ‘fruit basket.’“