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Chile produce season off and running

By
Keith Loria

The Chilean produce season is always in top gear during the winter, as cherries, blueberries, grapes and stone fruit are being imported into the United States.

Chile is the world’s leading exporter of cherries. The 2022-23 season closed with 83 million boxes exported and the industry was very hopeful for strong growth in 2023-24. Unfortunately, this has been a very challenging season for the Chilean cherry industry.

“The initial forecast for 2023-24 was 95.4 million boxes, but due to heavy rains and the El Niño phenomenon, the Cherry Committee reduced this forecast by 14.6 percent, to 81.4 million boxes,” said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

The latest projections from the Chilean Cherry Committee are closer to 70 million boxes.

“Although the increased volumes we had anticipated have not materialized this year, the U.S. is still Chile’s second-largest market and we are committed to supporting market development,” Brux said. “To that extent, we are partnering with more than 20 retail chains on robust marketing programs, including everything from digital coupons and sampling to bins and ad incentives.”

The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association also has numerous new images and videos that it’s posting on its social media platforms and are close to finishing its first digital magazine on cherries that’s packed with usage ideas, nutrition info and helpful tips.

With grapes, the projected volume is 63.4 million boxes. This consists of 24.8 million boxes of red seedless, 22.5 million boxes of white seedless, 10.1 million boxes of red globe and 6 million boxes of black seedless.

“The top newer varieties that have shipped season to date have been Prime, Area 15, Ralli Seedless, Sweet Celebration, Midnight Beauty, Arra 29 and Timpson,” Brux said. “We anticipate that new varieties will represent 63 percent of Chile’s total fresh grape exports this season, close to 40 million boxes.”

This year’s grape export program out of Chile is steadily gaining steam. Through Week 52, Chile has exported 2 million boxes vs. 693,000 at the same time last year. Of this total, 74 percent of volume has been shipped to the U.S. (1.4 million boxes). This compares to 593,000 boxes shipped to the U.S. through Week 52 of 2022.

“Our key promotion timeframe is March to April, but if there are retailers who want to run earlier promotions, we will certainly support them,” Brux said.

With stone fruit, the Chilean season (consisting of peaches, plums, and nectarines) has just started, with 1.1 million boxes of nectarines being shipped globally through Week 51.

“Of this volume, 254,000 boxes have been exported to North America,” Brux said. “The Far East has received 56 percent of the total. Weeks 3 and 4 are the peak export weeks.”

The main season for plums is March and April, so Chile has shipped just 52,000 boxes through Week 51. Peak export weeks are weeks 6-8.

Chilean peach exports through week 51 were 402,500 boxes, with 219,100 boxes (54 percent of the total) shipped to North America.

Peak weeks for exports should be around weeks 5 and 6.

“We have a small marketing program focused on supporting those retailers who are committed to growing this category,” Brux said. “We’ll be focusing on nectarines from mid-February through March and plums from March into April.”

For blueberries, the estimate for total exports remains at 73,500 tons.

“The industry is expecting the season to go longer,” Brux said. “In the southern zone, temperate weather persists and the average delay in harvests is 10 days. So far, 34,000 tons have been shipped, and of that volume, 13,000 tons have come to the U.S.”

Of the total volume shipped to the U.S., 3.5 tons (27 percent of all blueberries exported to the U.S.) have been organic.

“The U.S. is, by far, Chile’s largest market for organic blueberries, receiving 78 percent of all organic blueberries shipped to date this season,” Brux said.

The Chilean Blueberry Committee is not undertaking any marketing in the U.S. this season; instead, it is focusing on varietal replacement and ongoing improvements throughout the industry that will enhance the competitiveness of Chilean blueberries worldwide.

Keith Loria

Keith Loria

About Keith Loria  |  email

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is a D.C.-based award-winning journalist who has been writing for major publications for close to 20 years on topics as diverse as real estate, food and sports. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at magazines aimed at healthcare, sports and technology. When not busy writing, he can be found enjoying time with his wife, Patricia, and two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.

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