(Photo courtesy of Karen Brux)
There’s a chill in the air, and the holiday season is here. You know what that means. It’s time once again to set up your displays of summer fruit – from Chile.
“Chile is essentially the main source of everyone’s favorite summer fruits during the winter months,” said Karen Brux, managing director for North America for the San Carlos, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
Exporters shipped more than 845,000 tons of Chilean fresh fruit to North America during the 2017-18 season, and volume for the coming year should be similar, Brux said.
Cherries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, plums and nectarines are the main fruits supplied by Chile during the U.S. winter months, and the U.S. is by far the largest market for Chilean blueberries.
In 2013-14, Chile shipped 51,396 tons of fresh blueberries to North America, but by 2017-18, exports totaled 70,919 tons – growth of nearly 40%, Brux said.
North America has accounted for 64% of all Chilean fresh blueberry exports.
“With organic produce consumption continuing to increase, we’re also seeing increased volumes of organic blueberries from Chile,” Brux said.
During the 2017-18 season, 12% of the total Chilean blueberry volume shipped to North America was organic, and that number is expected to rise.
Peach exports to North America have grown 9% between the 2014-15 season and the 2017-18 season, Brux said. Air shipments contributed to the growth, with retailers promoting a “Flown In Fresh” message.
Table grape volume has been relatively stable.
“The great news with grape exports out of Chile is that if you look at volumes of specific varieties, Chile is shipping more of the varieties that the trade wants,” such as Timco and Sweet Celebration, Brux said.
In contrast, exporters are shipping lesser of varieties that have fallen out of favor, such as flames. Last year’s exports of flames to the U.S. were down 35% from just three years ago, Brux said.
Most of Chile’s cherry crop is sold in China, but exporters are recognizing the need to develop other markets – the U.S. in particular – as production increases.
“There’s definitely strong retail demand for Chilean cherries, and I believe we’ll start to see increased volumes and increased marketing support in the coming years.”
Several prominent North American shippers promote the Fruits from Chile brand to enable retail customers to offer traditional summer fruits year-round.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, for example, will market about 3 million boxes of Chilean table grapes this season, said Karin Gardner, director of corporate communications.
“We’ll offer a solid mix of core varieties, including thompson, crimson, black seedless and flame,” Gardner said.
New, high-yielding varieties like Timco, Allison and Sweet Celebration will also play an increasingly important role.
Oppy is a major marketer of Chilean stone fruit by volume and provides “a comprehensive supply” that includes apricots, cherries, nectarines and plums, Gardner said.
Next spring, the company plans to launch a new late plum variety called Callisto.
“It’s ideal for extending the Chilean plum season into the California harvest time,” Gardner said.
Chilean fruit complements the total product line from Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. and supports the company’s efforts to be a seamless year-round supplier, said Fernando Soberanes, director of operations for South America for Giumarra Southern Hemisphere.
Although Chile mainly grows traditional grape varieties, Giumarra will continue to expand its offerings of a wider range of varieties with a focus on its proprietary Arra offerings.
They include Sweeties (Arra 15) and Passion Glow (Arra 19).
“We will also focus on other new varietals, including but not limited to Magenta, Timco, Allison and Sweet Celebration as part of our mix,” Soberanes said. “We will also be offering additional unique, high-flavor varieties such as the Pink Muscat variety.”
Giumarra plans to have a blueberry program out of Chile as well.
Chile is an important part of the blueberry program at Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management.
“Chile has many advantages in its diversity of production areas,” Flores said. “We continue to see in Chile large strategic investments in new varieties, production methods, state-of-the-art packing/shipping facilities and developing the next generation of talented management.”
Naturipe kicked off its Chilean season this fall with its proprietary Rocio variety from its early-producing organic farms in Chile.
The company plans to source more from the country soon.
“Over the next few years, we will see the results of recent investments in our proprietary blueberry varieties that will be a tremendous new offering to the market,” Flores said. “Changes in our production systems, the latest packing systems in Chile and handling and logistics improvements throughout the supply chain will improve post-harvest quality through to the end receiver.”
Naturipe will collaborate with retail partners on blueberry promotions throughout the season during peak arrivals of both conventional and organic Chilean blueberries.