Demand for Chilean fruit is strengthening in other parts of the world, but North America remains Chile’s top destination, importers say.
Chilean growers produced 15 million boxes of cherries in 2011-12. Just 3 million boxes got to North America, down from 4 million boxes the season before.
That 15 million box figure? That was up from the year before. In other words, Chileans are growing more cherries, but the U.S. not only is not getting any of the new production, they’re also getting less of the old.
It’s a similar story for nectarines and plums. Despite the same production in Chile in 2011-12, the amount of nectarines that made it to North America fell from 3.4 million to 2.8 million boxes.
Production also was similar for plums, but shipments to North America fell from about 4 million to 3 million boxes.
Cherries are North American retailers and consumers’ favorite Chilean fruit, said Craig Padover, stone fruit category manager for Yonkers, N.Y.-based Jac Vandenberg Inc.
But increasingly, companies like Vandenberg have to fight to get enough product to meet demand, thanks to demand from other corners of the globe — one corner in particular.
“Most of the new production is going to Asia,” Padover said. “This market is always competing for cherries. It’s been a demand-exceeds market the last few years.”
Increased interest from around the world in Chilean fruit also is influencing stone fruit production in the country, Padover said.
“Growers are making decisions based on global demand, and there are more options for nectarines and plums,” he said. “North America is still hugely important, but (Chilean shippers) have more options.”
And often, Padover said, those non-North American options are more lucrative.
“If a grower can get X amount from the Far East and X less from North America, where are they going to send that product?”
Asian demand for Chilean blueberries will help stabilize prices in the U.S., said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.
There’s no danger of Chileans turning their backs on North America, Bocock said — the U.S. consumer has too much of a head start on his overseas counterparts.
Supplies and prices
Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., also expects greater demand for Chilean fruit from markets other than the U.S. and Canada.
“More than 100 countries receive fruit from Chile,” Tjerandsen said. “A finite volume of fruit is grown in Chile, although substantial resources are being expended to increase the total.”
In 2011-12, due to increased demand from other markets, Chilean grape shipments fell by 8%, Schiro said. And last year was no means an anomaly.
“It’s been a trend for the last five years,” he said. “It’s becoming a more global market.”
On the one hand, that sometimes means North American importers have to work harder to find adequate supplies. On the other hand, Schiro said, increased demand from Asia and other rival markets can strengthen markets here, particularly now that U.S. retailers understand the ramifications of that new, global market.
“The last two seasons we’ve seen a very strong market,” he said. “Retailers realize they need to pay competitive prices. They’ve heard multiple times from us that other markets are paying strong prices for excellent fruit.”
Higher prices can be a tough sell with some retailers, but in the end everyone benefits when Chilean growers do well and subsequently invest more in their businesses, Schiro said.