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Although the United States is the largest receiver of Chilean fresh fruit exports, there is still room to grow. Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in Sonoma, CA, said this is good news for domestic retailers.

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Chilean fruit is arriving on schedule at U.S. ports during the 2010-11 season. (Photo courtesy of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association)

"Growers in Chile have long-term relationships with the United States," he told The Produce News March 28. "The index of consumption [by Americans] is still less than in the summer months. We still have room for increases in marketing."

Last season, Chile exported 38 percent of its principal fresh fruits to the United States. That share is projected to increase to 40 percent for the 2010-11 season, Mr. Tjerandsen said.

"This gives retailers an opportunity for seamless volume throughout the year," he said.

Fresh fruit production is slated for increases in Chile in the future. As production ramps up, Mr. Tjerandsen said more quality fruit will be available to global markets. 

The nation's top fresh fruit exports are table grapes, apples, avocados, plums, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, lemons, kiwifruit and pears.

The list continues to grow. Citrus has been a product cultivated in Chile for a long time. But, as Mr. Tjerandsen pointed out, a protocol was adopted in the United States only four years ago to facilitate citrus exports. He said that of the 2.7 million boxes of clementines exported last season, 2.5 million were received in North America. Half a million boxes of mandarin oranges were received in North America, and 280,000 boxes of tangerines were exported. Navel orange exports hit the two million-box mark, and a million boxes of lemons were received in North America.

Mr. Tjerandsen said these volumes will increase for the 2010-11 crop year.

A protocol was implemented last year in response to inquiries from the United States to allow importation of Chilean pomegranates. Mr. Tjerandsen said poms are exported both as whole fruit and arils -- the fleshy red pockets containing seeds. The Chilean export season begins in April and continues to the end of June. "It's certainly an opportunity for retailers to take advantage of fresh in the summer," he went on to say.

Another recently enacted protocol will facilitate the export of baby kiwifruit from Chile. Blueberry and cherry production have increased significantly.

"All this increases the volume going north," Mr. Tjerandsen said.

The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association provides marketing support to North American retailers. "We have an aggressive program to move fruit into shoppers' carts," he said. One example is the use of tagged television, which gives retailers beneficial exposure. According to Mr. Tjerandsen, consumers get quick bursts of information about commodities and places to find them. Mr. Tjerandsen said the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association has received favorable feedback about the program.

In-store radio is also available to remind shoppers to buy Chilean product.

Mr. Tjerandsen said that one of the challenges facing retailers is "to train and retain produce handlers." As a result, the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association has developed a special video training program for produce handlers. "That's turned out to be wonderful," he noted. "If fruit is handled properly, shrink is reduced."

The program is available on DVD or as a download from the association's web site.

Distribution of Chilean fresh fruit in the foodservice sector is growing substantially, Mr. Tjerandsen added. School districts are increasingly incorporating Chilean fresh fruit into menu planning, and information is being provided to teachers about fruit seasonality and the benefits of fruit consumption.

"We're fortunate to be in the market when kids are in school," he said.

The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association also stresses the natural attributes of Chile's growing regions and the commitment of growers to ChileGAP, the first such program implemented on a national level.