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Western Fresh Marketing first importer of Chilean fresh figs

by Lora Abcarian | April 15, 2011

The first pallets of fresh Chilean figs, off-loaded at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, entered the domestic marketplace April 13. George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA, said that the company was the first to receive a permit under new rules announced in the April 4 Federal Register governing the fruit’s importation.

Western Fresh
Western Fresh Marketing, headquartered in Madera, CA, was the first American company to receive a permit to import fresh figs from Chile. The first load of fruit entered the domestic marketplace April 13. Shown are grower Cristian Munoz, president of Hortofruticola Sudamericola Ltd., and Luis Carrasco, who represents Western Fresh in Chile. (Photo courtesy of Western Fresh Marketing)
“We’re quite excited,” he told The Produce News April 14. “The first arrival was very good.”

Western Fresh Marketing is one of the larger fig suppliers in the United States. Mr. Kragie said that the Chilean growing season does not overlap with California, so the addition of Chilean fresh figs will give the company a nearly year-round fig program. “There will be very little gap between the markets,” he noted.

The company has offices in Chile, and Mr. Kragie said that “our man on the ground is very close to the growers.” Western Fresh Marketing was approached by a grower, paving the way for the initial shipment that arrived at JFK. The first arrival included fresh figs packed in two-pound open half-trays and packages of 12-count 8-ounce clamshells. “The reception was exceptional,” he stated.

A limited 2011 import season will end in early May. Mr. Kragie said that importation of these trial loads will give everyone a chance to address proper protocols and ensure that product flows in a smooth and orderly manner. Beginning the week of April 17, Western Fresh Marketing will have Chilean fresh figs available on both the East and West coasts.

Looking down the road, Mr. Kragie said that the 2012 import season will ramp up in mid- to late January and conclude at the beginning of May.

Chilean fig volume, especially when compared to U.S. production, is small at the current time. But Mr. Kragie said that more product will be available in the coming years as production matures. “Some of the oldest trees are five to six years old,” he observed. Unlike the United States, which produces both fresh and dry figs, Chile’s industry focuses exclusively on fresh production. Pruning techniques keep the trees smaller but allow producers to hand pick the fruit.