Chile’s role as a source of fresh fruits and vegetables globally continues to increase, according to industry leaders there.
Chilean fresh fruit exports were expected to total $3.6 billion in 2011, according to Fedefruta, an organization representing about 17,000 growers in the South American country.
The total volume of fresh fruit exports in 2011 was projected to surpass 2.6 million tons — up 7.4% from 2010’s numbers. Fedefruta attributed much of that increase to improved yields and a snap-back from a series of poor-weather seasons in recent years.
The biggest beneficiaries, the organization said, were blueberries, which had a volume increase of 31%; cherries, at 41%; nuts, 22%; and avocados, 20%.
Chile’s rise to prominence has prompted radical — and positive — changes in the dynamics of the U.S. retail market, said Dick Spezzano, president of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Inc.
“It used to be the worst quarter for sales was the first quarter of the year,” Spezzano said. “That was because you didn’t have tree fruit, you didn’t have grapes, you only had a minimal amount of berries and melons. You didn’t have much on asparagus, so you didn’t have a real push on produce.”
Now the January-through-March period often is one of retailers’ most profitable quarters, Spezzano said.
“You have Chilean winter fruit and South American winter fruit and you’ve got supplies of asparagus out of Peru and Mexico,” he said. “You have berries from California and South America. It’s just a great selling season. It’s not only just grapes and tree fruit — it’s avocados, kiwis, apples, pears and other items.”
Crucial to the success is the consistency of quality that Chilean products bring to produce shelves, Spezzano said.
“You have a lot of the same varieties,” he said. “The premium grape, the sugraone from Chile, is like California’s best. It’s a high-quality grape, so they have high quality that arrives in the U.S. All of those fruits are in high demand.”
He compared Chile’s growing conditions to those in California.
Look for Chile to get even stronger, said Julio Ortuzar, Chilean consultant with Weston, Fla.-based shipper Fresh Results LLC.
“Chile is the world’s largest copper exporter, and after that is fruits and vegetables,” he said. “They’ll continue to fortify their ag exports. They are a player right now and will continue to become more predominant.”
Chilean growers compare well with the best in the world, said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., which imports blueberries from Chile.
“They want to be productive and be a force as far as the blueberries,” he said. “At this point, they’re focused on planting and harvesting. Lately, they’ve been focused on maybe trying new varieties, being competitive, getting the yields they need.”
Chile also is maturing as an export market and is diversifying, said Jose Luis Obregon, former executive director of the Hass Avocado Board, Irvine, Calif.
“Their production has increased, but what they ship to the U.S. has shifted,” Obregon said. “They’ve found new markets in Europe and the domestic market. So what used to be an industry that highly depended on the U.S. has shifted, and competition has come onboard. So they have successfully found new markets. They’re a big player in Europe now.”
That trend will continue, Obregon noted.
“I think they’re an important player and, as consumption grows in the United States, they’ll continue to grow as a player,” he said.