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Kopke maintains leading role in Chilean imports

By
Tim Linden

Though Chilean fruit imports, including its signature table grape crop, have seen declining volume to the U.S. market in recent years, New York-based William H. Kopke Jr. Inc. is maintaining a leading position it has earned for many decades.

William Kopke explained that Chilean growers have been updating their varieties in recent years, which led to a short-term decline in volume as the new plantings mature to full production. “Now, we are starting to see the results of the investment with millions of boxes of new varieties coming from Chile. This year, Chile has a grape crop estimate that was forecast at 55 million cartons,” he said. “But over the last six weeks there has been less fruit that expected.”

He said Chilean growers still have a robust crop and Kopke will have a full lineup of grape varieties from each of the South American country’s many growing districts, which will allow it to service its customers well into May. He noted that the first grape shipments for this season came into the U.S. market during the second week of December. “We have been increasing our shipments every week since and we will continue to see increases until we hit our peak volume in March and early April,” he said. “This year we are seeing relatively stable numbers throughout the season with no expected compression of volume from the various districts. We will continue to expand our distribution throughout North America from both coasts.”

Kopke explained that abnormal weather patterns in the various districts created uneven supplies in 2023 leading to a more challenging marketing situation. In fact, he said Chilean growers have had several difficult years in a row and need a solid season this year to improve their collective bottom line. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused problems followed by big rains in 2021, container and logistics issues in 2022 and supply challenges in 2023. “The Chileans need a good season this year,” Kopke said, adding that early signs are promising. “The crop we see in the field is excellent with very high-quality fruit. We have a full portfolio of red, green and black varieties and we are also a leader in the ‘Candy’ varieties.”

Kopke’s fruit exports from Chile also include a full array of stone fruits, including plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries. The stone fruit lineup includes new varieties of yellow and white flesh nectarines and peaches, as well as new plum varieties.

While the importer has had a significant volume of cherries from Chile, Kopke did note that weather issues have severely hampered cherry production with the 2023-24 crop estimate recently downsized significantly. “The early estimate predicted a 95 million carton crop but that has recently been downgraded to around 65 million cartons,” he said. “We still have a nice program that will continue through January with shipments into Los Angeles and New Jersey.”

In its New Jersey facility, Kopke has an optical scanner that allows it to rework and repack its imported cherries into many different packs and containers to fit its customers’ needs.

While the Chilean citrus is a summer through fall program that will not kickoff again until May, Kopke did note that the company’s import volume of Chilean clementines, mandarins and oranges broke a record in 2023 and is expected to be just as large, if not larger, in 2024. “We recently closed out a record citrus season from Chile with excellent volume and quality,” he said. “We are looking forward to a strong quality season this year.”

Photo: William Kopke

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