Karen Brux, managing director North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in San Carlos, CA, said that she feels it is fair to say that this has been a very challenging season for everyone involved in Chilean fruit, from growers and exporters to importers, wholesalers and retailers.
“In September of 2013, Chile was hit by its worst frost in over 80 years,” said Brux. “While avocados were greatly spared from its effects, most other fruits were damaged. Some commodities suffered losses of over 50 percent.
“Blueberries were still a bright spot with the Chilean Blueberry Committee projecting an increase in exports to the U.S.,” she continued. “However, in late December, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced that Chilean blueberry exports would need to be fumigated due to detections of European Grapevine Moth in a few key blueberry growing regions.”
Brux said that exports of blueberries to the United States have, consequently, fallen by 32 percent year-to-date compared to last season.
Also hindering the Chilean fresh produce export movement this season was the Port of San Antonio’s three-week strike in January, which is a key shipping period for Chile.
“While other ports were still functioning during the strike, the temporary shutdown of San Antonio definitely posed some logistical challenges to exporters and importers and raised a number of questions from retailers who were getting ready to launch Chilean fruit promotions,” Brux added.
The CFFA has made necessary adjustments to its promotion program for the shortages this season, and it has still been able to support numerous retailers throughout the United States.
“Volume and pricing have been challenging, but with Chilean fruit playing such a dominant role in every retailer’s produce department they are eager to promote what they can and when they can,” said Brux. “With our regional merchandisers and customized marketing programs, we continue to work with retailers to design appropriate promotions.”
January’s port strike and the new fumigation requirements for Chilean blueberries basically disrupted the flow of Chilean fruit to the North American market. Brux said that things got back on track in late January, but due to last year’s frost there was certainly less fruit being shipped to North America.
Chilean growers’ challenge related to the new fumigation requirements on blueberries produced in the country, which are due to the European Grapevine Moth.
Brux reiterated that fumigation was originally required prior to departure from Chile, but after further discussions and negotiations, the USDA started to allow fumigation to take place upon arrival to U.S. ports.
“This protocol started in early January,” said Brux. “The U.S. is Chile’s largest export market for blueberries, and we expect it will continue to hold this position in the coming years. Nevertheless, at least for now, fumigation is part of the new reality for anyone selling Chilean blueberries in the U.S. market.”
The season for Chilean fruit really never ends, Brux explained. The blueberry season was in its final stages in late March, and grape and stone fruit promotions are due to wrap up in April.
“But we’re here to promote all Chilean fruit, so if there are opportunities for apples, pears, kiwifruit or other items, we will certainly pursue what makes sense for the industry,” she said. “Also, the Chilean Citrus Committee will be supporting a North American marketing program, so we’re starting to put those plans in place. Citrus marketing programs will run from summer into fall. Once fall arrives planning for the next season of blueberries, cherries and all of Chile’s summer fruits will begin again.”
Some companies are riding the Chilean import strongly, and adding to it as products become available. On March 24, Oppy announced that its Chilean plum season will finish with a flourish when the exciting new fruit known as RR1 arrives in April. The RR1 is a late-harvesting, long-storing plum with yellow flesh that transforms to light red as it ripens. First planted in Chile in 2010, RR1 follows the popular Angelino variety in availability and can sustain the plum season well into May.
In its press release, Evan Myers, Oppy’s director of imports and stone fruit said, “We believe RR1 has excellent potential. Red plum supplies are ramping down. It’s exciting that our growers are producing such a great-tasting piece of fruit at a point in the season when demand is strong.”
RR1 is harvested at 17 to 19 Brix, delivering a sweet flavor balanced with just a hint of tang.
Oppy is a major importer of fresh Chilean produce, and North America’s largest-volume Chilean plum marketer. Myers noted that the company was looking forward to introducing RR1.
“Early indications suggest that our retail partners are anticipating this plum with as much enthusiasm as we are,” said Myers. “As volumes grow, RR1 can extend the plum season considerably longer, making the gap between import and domestic plum availability appreciably smaller.”
Oppy expects very modest volumes this season, but Myers forecasts exponential growth, which will be helped by the new and more inviting name for 2015; RR1.
Brux also serves as the marketing director for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, commonly referred to by its acronym, CAIA. She said that Chilean avocados have had a wonderful season.
“We were originally anticipating a 30-35 percent volume increase over the 2012-13 season, but volume has more than doubled,” she said.