The Chilean fruit industry always has a big presence at the PMA Fresh Summit Convention & Exposition, which is reflection of the importance of the U.S. market for that South American country’s producers.
Again this year, a large booth served innovative culinary creations that featured Chilean fruits, and fruit committee executives were on hand to discuss the upcoming season and what U.S. retailers can expect from a key Southern Hemisphere partner.
Andres Armstrong, executive director of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, said that North America, and especially the United States, remains the key export market for Chile, accounting for 64 percent of the shipments. Of that number, the U.S. market receives around 85 percent of the volume sent to North America.
“There is very strong demand for blueberries in the United States,” said Armstrong, who added that blueberries are still very much in a growth trend in Chile, where the season goes from late October to April.
He said demand within Chile also is strong, but as a relatively small country with 17 million residents, it is important for growers to have export markets for their fruit.
Armstrong said organic fruit is also seeing strong interest, and Chile is working to fill the demand. He said Chile is well suited to grow organic fruit due to lower pest pressure in its growing regions. Growers that do secure organic certifications are well positioned to supply the U.S. and European markets due to Chile’s relatively strict organic protocols.
Armstrong said last season hit record levels for exports due to perfect growing conditions. While this season is also expected to be strong, he anticipates volume to be down around 5 percent from 2017-18’s 110,000 metric tons. Organic production is expected to account for around 10 percent of the total volume.
Armstrong said Chile participates in the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, which promotes the blueberry crop as a whole. Chile also does its own promotions during its window.
“The counter-seasonal window to the Northern Hemisphere works well for us, because U.S. consumers can still get fresh blueberries during the winter from Chile,” he said. “We feel it is important to maintain a year-round presence at retail and keep pricing stable to maintain blueberry consumers.”
Armstrong said his committee is producing a video this year to remind U.S. consumers that it is summer in Chile, so fresh fruit is available to them. The video will be posted on its social media channels. He said retail display contests are also planned to help keep demand high at retail.
Lemons leading the way for Chilean citrus
Blueberries are not the only fruit from Chile that is experiencing a strong market in the United States.
Juan Enrique Ortuzar, chairman of the Chilean Citrus Committee, said he expects a large increase in citrus volume to the United States this season, with lemons in particular experiencing a spike.
For lemons, Ortuzar said record shipments are expected for both U.S.-bound fruit and for the worldwide market.
Greatly helping the cause, he said, is the move to a systems approach, whereby lemon groves are certified to be free from the Brevipalpus mite. Fruit from certified groves can be shipped without undergoing fumigation, which results in larger packouts and longer shelf life.
“The systems approach was a bit of a process, but growers did a good job of adapting,” he said.
The Chilean Navel crop also experienced a slight increase, with volume up to 99,000 metric tons over last season’s 84,000 metric tons. Of that number, the United States receives approximately 90 percent.
He said the season was a bit difficult this year after a strong start. Midway through the season, there was a glut in the market, which kept prices down and had growers looking at other channels to sell their fruit.
Other categories include the easy-peelers, which kicked off with Clementines in May and W. Murcotts in July. Clementine volume was up around 40 percent, to 61,000 metric tons, and the W. Murcott crop saw a lift of around 30 percent to 110,000 metric tons.
“The Mandarin season was a little late this year, which put some pressure on the market,” said Ortuzar. “Unfortunately, we missed part of the window in August because we had to wait until the fruit was ready to harvest due to the weather.”
Again, Ortuzar touted the counter-seasonal aspect of Chile’s shipping season as a major benefit for U.S. retailers and the reason that Chile is an ideal partner for the United States.
Karen Brux, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, said promotional efforts in the United States for lemons included a greater emphasis on foodservice.
“A lot of lemons are used in foodservice, and this year we participated in the PMA Foodservice Conference and found the Buyer Roundtable event to be extremely beneficial,” she said. “We had done some research with Food Essentials and were able to use that in our meetings with customers there.
“This year was about understanding opportunities, and next year we plan to put that into action,” she added.
For Clementines and Mandarins, Brux said she is focused on working with the trade and retailers with things like digital coupons and social media.
“We are fortunate that the industry realizes the value that Chile provides,” she said. “There is a lot of confidence in the quality and supply of Chilean citrus.”
Fuente: The Produce News