NEW ORLEANS — Chilean cherry exports may be held in check by frosts this year, but a key Chilean industry leader promised big future gains for contraseasonal cherry sales in North America.

Cristian Tagle, Chilean cherry exporter and chairman of the Chilean Cherry Committee, spoke about the immediate and long-term outlook for Chilean cherries at an Oct. 19 news conference at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2013 expo.

Before the September frosts, Tagle said Chilean cherry exporters were expecting to export about 17 million boxes of fruit in its November through January marketing window.

After the frost damage, he said the Chilean cherry crop may lose 30% to 40% of its potential and reach only about 11 million boxes for export markets this year. That reduced crop size is modestly up compared with last season’s rain-shortened crop, he said. Early varieties were hurt most by the cold, Tagle said.

Without unexpected weather events, Chile’s cherry volume is anticipated to grow at a rate of 15% to 20% per year in the next few years, he said.

Total exports of cherries from Chile in 2012-13 totaled 52,296 metric tons, making Chile among the top three cherry-exporting countries.

Asian markets accounted for 70% of Chilean cherry export sales in 2012-13, while Latin American took 7.6% of Chile’s cherries. Sales to Europe accounted for 5.9% of total cherry exports.

The importance of Asian markets — notably China — is increasing while the U.S. market share has declined from nearly 50% in 2008 to 15.6% in 2012-13, he said.

The Chilean Cherry Committee, a group organized in March 2012 under the umbrella of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association, aims to build international markets for the growing Chilean fresh cherry industry, Tagle said. The group represents about 28 producer and exporting companies, accounting for about 80% of Chile’s total cherry exporters, Tagle said.

Directing North American promotions for the group, Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in North America, said Chilean cherries account for 80% of U.S. cherry imports. She said promotion efforts for Chilean cherries in the North American market in the 2013-14 season will include retail promotions, social media mentions and public relations work.

Brux promised to work with retailers on a one-on-one basis to set up promotions that make sense. She said it may be possible to combine Chilean cherry and Chilean blueberry promotions at store level.

Production information sheets, nutrition tips and point of sales cards also are available for interested retailers, she said.

Brux said Chile cherries are a perfect fit for Chinese new year celebrations, and Asian retailers and retailers in high population Asian markets are a target market for that reason, she said.

Social media efforts are ongoing to give consumers a closer connection to Chilean fruit growers, with efforts focused on showing that Chilean cherry growers produce fruit to the highest standards.

Christmas and the first few weeks of January are expected to feature the strongest retail cherry promotions this season, Brux said.