On a trip to Chile in 2007, I admired the candor of a manager at Decofrut, the Santiago-based company that specialized in providing statistical analysis of the Chilean fruit industry.
Specifically as it related to Chilean peaches.
At the beginning of the deal, growers could get good money for peaches, but yields were light, Isabel Quiroz, Decofrut’s service and information manager, told me.
Later in the deal, meanwhile, preconditioning and other high costs made it difficult for growers to make money.
Add to that the fact that, despite preconditioning and other measures, Chilean peaches often arrived in the U.S. with no juice and no flavor.
At the time, it struck me as perhaps a poster child for the case against year-round availability in the fresh produce industry.
“Year-round” has long been the battle cry of produce marketers (even in the locally grown era), but they’ll never be able to overcome a basic industry truth: Many, if not most, fruits and vegetables taste better at certain times of the year than they do at others.
Chile has, of course, worked wonders for the produce industry and for the health of Americans with their winter fruit offerings.
But maybe peaches were an example of the limits of the 365/24/7 mentality.
Quiroz and her boss, Decofrut director Manuel Alcaino, did mention to me, however, that Chilean growers were rolling up their sleeves to experiment with new peach — and nectarine — varieties.
Fast forward five years, and those new stone fruit varieties are beginning to hit on U.S. shores.
According to one importer, it’s the nectarine varieties — probably not too surprisingly — that are shining brightest.
Jac Vandenberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y., expects to bring in about 10% fewer peaches and 10% more nectarines from Chile this season, Craig Padover, the company’s stone fruit category manager, told me.
There are a lot of new nectarine varieties that have caught the company’s eye, Padover said.
Peaches, not so much.
Vandenberg is relying on those new varieties, combined with new pack sizes out of Chile, to help give the category a much-needed boost.
Stone fruit upgrades is just one of the story lines out of Chile I’ve found intriguing this winter.
Another involves apples, and what’s most interesting about it is the direction the export and import arrows are pointing.
India, Russia and the Pacific Rim have been among the hot growth markets for Washington apple exports in recent years.
And of course many red delicious and other varieties find good homes in Mexico.
But South America? Don’t Chile and other South American countries pretty much have their homeland covered?
Not this year. Season-to-date shipments to the continent are way up — as much as 61% during some periods — thanks in large part to Chile being low on galas, fujis and other varieties.
It will be interesting to see if Washington apples in Chile fare better than Chilean peaches in the U.S.
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