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Chilean Fruit supply on the rise

By
Keith Loria

Fruit sales in Chile have been very strong throughout the pandemic according to the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, with monthly retail fruit sales increasing each month when compared to the same time period last year.  

The berry category has been particularly strong. In fact, IRI data showed the berry category had an absolute dollar gain of $58 million, or growth of 13.6 percent vs. the same period last year.

Chile started exporting blueberries to North America in mid-August, but there were only small volumes until mid-November, and very concentrated in organics from the northern region. The first week that Chile shipped more than 1,000 tons to North America was Nov. 16-22.

“We are now entering into peak weeks for blueberry departures from Chile, so weekly volumes will increase, generating strong promotable volumes of Chilean blueberries in January and February,” said Karen Brux. managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

The Chilean Blueberry Committee is projecting 111,500 tons of total fresh blueberry exports, 2 percent higher than last season.

“Although we don’t expect a big change in volume, we are seeing a significant shift in variety share,” Brux said. “Older varieties are decreasing and newer varieties with better attributes — stronger production, better taste, longer shelf life — are increasing.”

Total shipped volume (globally) through Dec. 13 was 26,127 tons with about half of all volume shipped heading for North America. Still, the number of imports to the U.S. is down about 11 percent over last season.

“The big shift from Chile into the U.S. are organic blueberries with 22 percent and 10 percent growth the previous two seasons,” Brux said. “With respect to organic blueberries, 4,188 tons of organic blueberries (91 percent of total organic blueberry exports through Dec. 13) have been shipped to North America.”

In early October, the Systems Approach regulation was finally published in the Federal Register, which Brux noted was great news for blueberry producers in the Ñuble and Biobio regions, who can now export to the U.S. through monitoring and inspection.

“Based on the producers that have already registered to opt for the Systems Approach this season, a volume of 9,500 tons is estimated at Ñuble and another 7,100 tons at Biobio,” she said. “In total, the volume will reach 16,600 tons, representing 15 percent of the estimated total for this season. Most of this volume is estimated to be organic. This is great news for the U.S. market, where demand for organic blueberries continues to increase.”

The latest estimate from the Chilean Cherry Committee derived from 68 companies representing 77.4 percent of the volume last season showed 316,184 tons were delivered, representing 38.3 percent growth vs. last season and a new record for exports.

“China continues to be the main destination for Chilean Cherries, but there are also marketing programs running in the U.S., South Korea and Brazil,” Brux said. “This season, programs will run in India, Vietnam and Thailand for the first time.”

The first harvests of Chilean table grapes in the Atacama region kicked off in week 49, one week behind last season, yielding mostly white seedless grapes (Sugraone, Prime Seedless, and Timson), as well as a lower volume of Flame Seedless. 

“Exports of table grapes have just started, with just 475 tons shipped globally through Week 50,” Brux said. “Of this amount, 219 tons were destined to North America, which is Chile’s largest export market. Exports to this market will continue to ramp up, and the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association will be running promotions from February through April.”

Last season, Chile exported a total of 600,960 tons with about half shipped to North America. Though it’s too early for projections, it’s expected the number will grow in 2021.

“Importers can expect to see increased volumes of the more desired newer varieties (Timco, Sweet Celebration, Allison, etc.) and lower volumes of varieties like Flame Seedless,” Brux said. “Chile is committed to meeting the needs of its export markets. Hence the swift shift toward the newer varieties demanded by the North American market.”

Stone fruit promotions hit high gear in February and runs through April.

Through mid-December, Chile has shipped 370 tons of plums globally including 201 tons to North America. Early pickings focused on Early Queen and Big Fusion varieties.

With nectarines, 2,992 tons were shipped through the same time period with 1,084 destined for North America. Early picking focused on Zee Fire, Rio Red and Early Juan varieties.

As for peaches, so far 2,550 tons have been shipped globally with 64 percent headed to North America. The main varieties harvested season to date have been Early Majestic and Super Rich.

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