As a way to distinguish early-season Chilean grapes and show a commitment to quality, growers from Atacama's Copiapó and Huasco valleys have launched the FreshAtacama quality seal. The certification ensures consistent product quality throughout the season.
FreshAtacama is part of a program by the Chilean Foundation for Agricultural Innovation, financed by the Fund for Innovation & Competitiveness through the regional government. The seal's first appearance in the 2012-13 season marks the beginning of the Chilean export window. The regional certification already has the participation of 14 producers.
FreshAtacama made its first appearance as an excellence seal during the 2011-12 season, with a total of 297,654 exported boxes. In 2012-13, certification began Nov. 16 during the Copiapó Valley high season with Perlette and Prime varieties. For this coming season, an estimated 1 million FreshAtacama-certified boxes are expected to be shipped to the United States and Asia.
The FreshAtacama seal is a guarantee of fruit quality consistency; healthy, well-finished, well-shaped and consistent fruit; a region of origin with unique features; and socially and environmentally responsible production.
The Atacama region is of great importance to Chilean fruit, especially for table grapes. Of the national total of 105.1 million boxes produced, this region produces 12.41 million boxes, equivalent to 12 percent. With respect to table grape terrain, Atacama represents 15 percent of the national total with 8,000 acres planted. The region's climatic conditions enable the grapes to ripen earlier and healthier. High temperatures protect crops from fungi and diseases.
With high day temperatures and low night temperatures, the fruit achieves optimal flavor and sugar levels, including a better sweet-acid balance. The certification conditions created by producers and exporters have established seriousness and commitment to meeting required standards. Additionally, the process incorporates safe and efficient production practices, below strict norms for health safety, environment, waste and labor. Table grapes are the main farm export for the region, alongside pomegranates.
The United States is the main destination for Atacama table grapes, with 58 percent market participation. However, the level continues to decline as prices rise. In second place is China with 7.4 percent, followed by Mexico with 6.1 percent.
In the Atacama region, a series of initiatives has been developed that look to improve and reinforce industry competitiveness. One of these projects is this Certification Seal meant to differentiate and give value to Atacama region table grape production in consumer markets. It is financed by the Atacama regional government and FIA. It is executed by the Rural Social Development Corp.