A season that has happened
Although the results were lower than those expected at the beginning, the taste that left the last season among the national croupiers was, in general, quite good. After all, the 2015 / 2016 campaign closed with shipments that exceeded the 91 thousand tons, that is, almost the same figure that was achieved last year.
The great responsible for this situation was the climate, which through a rainy spring and a hot summer caused the fruit to be exposed to damage and loss of quality. In the end, all this resulted in the season being delayed and that many of the original shipments should be rescheduled.
The exchange rate factor
Another factor that influenced the transit of Chilean blueberries this season was the good price that the dollar reached against other currencies.
"This had an important impact on the decision of exporters to send their fruit to markets where the North American currency was the main currency of transactions", says Andrés Armstrong, manager of the Blueberry Committee.
Thus, for example, shipments to North America (United States and Canada) experienced an increase of 3% during the season that has just ended, reaching 63.253 tons.
Although Manuel José Alcaíno, president of Decofrut, does not ignore the importance of the type factor of change in the decision taken by the exporters, believes that the most relevant variable was the condition that presented the fruit once harvested.
"Many exporters found low quality fruit, which did not meet the characteristics to be exported to distant markets. For this reason, they preferred to send it to a closer destination such as the United States, which is located at 12-13 days, versus Europe and China, which are much further away ", he adds.
Regarding the prices registered in the United States throughout the season, it can be said that these, in general, were similar to those of last year, averaging US $ 8,7 / Kg.
In this context, the 45 week reports spoke of prices that reached US $ 16 / Kg, a figure higher than the one registered on the same date last year, due to the lower volume sent by Argentina and the lower initial outputs of Chile. .
A week 52, meanwhile, had already sent to the United States an 19% less fruit than in the same week of the 2014 / 15 season.
"The average of prices from week 45 to 52 was US $ 12 / Kg, that is, one dollar higher than in the same period of the previous season", explains Gabriel Layseca, market analyst at iQonsulting.
The fall of Europe and Asia
In the case of Europe, one of the destinations that in recent years had been gaining relevance for Chilean blueberries, shipments during the 2015 / 16 season fell 7%, reaching 19.000 tons.
According to Gabriel Layseca, the lowest volume sent to this market by all suppliers caused prices to remain higher than in the previous season. In fact, the average price for this season reached EUR 9,8 / kg, 6% higher than 2014 / 2015.
"However, the higher average price did not fully compensate for the lower volume sent", indicates the iQonsulting expert.
Asia, on the other hand, also experienced a drop of 14% in its participation as destination for our blueberries during the last season, reaching shipments of 8.122 tons.
During most of the season in China the prices were higher than those of the previous season, closing with an average price of US $ 19,5 / Kg. "With this, the average price was 27% higher than that obtained in the previous season, offsetting the lower volume sent to this market," says Gabriel Layseca.
According to Andrés Armstrong, this situation was related, to a large extent, with the fact that the exporters did not want to make the same mistakes as last year, when they sent more fruit to China than the market was capable of absorbing, causing prices to fall. in an important way.
"In addition to this factor, of course it also affected the fact that China is growing these days less than in previous years", Anade.
Manuel Alcaíno, meanwhile, notes that much of the fruit that was harvested in the last season did not have enough quality to reach distant markets such as Asia.
"Although the strategy is established by each company, exporting to China is not easy, because only a percentage of the fruit produced in the country qualifies for this"He says.
The change of scenery
But in the sector not only analyze what happened in the last season, but observe with extreme care the signals that these days is delivering the international market. And there is no doubt that the scenario has changed, especially in regard to the demands of consumers, who are increasingly looking for better quality fruit.
"Before you could reach the markets with fruit that did not have the best condition and still sold, because the volumes of fruit were not enough. Today, however, the need for fruit to arrive in optimal conditions is paramount "says Andrés Armstrong.
Thus, the efforts of the local industry are focused on improving the performance of their fruit in the destination markets, which in practice means arriving with fruit of better quality and that adapts to the requirements of the consumer.
In that sense, Armstrong highlights the effort that the Blueberry Committee is making to improve the handling of packaging lines and thus reduce the number of fruit affected by undesirable bruises. For this, he says, a good part of the technology available must have been used, including the famous "Electronic cranberry".
The onslaught of Peru
Another aspect that worries in the sector are the consequences that the appearance of new producers may have for the market.
In this context, one of the most disturbing cases is Peru, a country that has the capacity to produce blueberries from a month before and until a couple of weeks after Chile. In fact, for 2016, the northern country plans to expand its plantation area to 4.000 hectares, with which 2017 could have the capacity to export at least 40.000 tons. But this plan does not stay in the short term, but is projected over time. Thus, 2020 aims to reach the 10.000 hectares planted, which would change the current scenario in an important way.
One aspect highlighted by specialists is that the plantations in Peru, unlike those in Chile, are mostly new and have the most advanced technology. In addition, much of its surface is planted with a single variety: Biloxi, which although not as desirable in terms of flavor as those produced in Chile, has a caliber and firmness suitable for long trips.
"This, of course, seduces the large supermarket chains, which at the end of the day would benefit greatly, since they would generate smaller amounts of waste", indicates Manuel Alcaíno.
Replacing varieties: A pending task
For this reason experts agree that one of the most important tasks that Chile has ahead is to advance in the varietal replacement. This means, in practice, to remove the old varieties and change them for newer ones, which have the appropriate characteristics to reach their destination in good conditions.
"Although the task has been done little by little in recent years, the current conditions, where some countries have gained space, make it urgent to accelerate the pace", says Andrés Armstrong.
According to figures that are handled in the sector, Chile currently has a potential that allows it to easily export 110.000 tons, thanks to the fact that it has almost 20.000 hectares planted. The problem, they say, is that there is a non-minor percentage of this figure that corresponds to fruit that does not meet market requirements, in terms of size (minimum 12 mm) and firmness.
"I think that the third third of the Chilean harvest, which corresponds to around 10% of the total volume, presents quality problems, since it lacks dry matter and solidity. Thus, it often does not reach markets well. Therefore, I think that fruit should not be exported ", indicates Manuel Alcaíno.
The idea of the president of Decofrut aims for this remnant to be sent to the frozen industry. This, in his opinion, would allow the local industry to have a much stronger and much better quality offer for the fresh market.
"It should not be forgotten that in the liquidation that is sent to the producers, the exporters incorporate all those problems that occurred at the destination, including rejections. For the same reason, if we manage to reduce or eliminate those problems our liquidations will improve a lot ", Explica.
Despite the enormous challenges currently presented by the blueberry business for Chile, experts call for calm. And is that the consumption of this berry in the world has grown significantly in recent years and will continue to do so in the future.
"In the United States, for example, cranberry has positioned itself as an icon of healthy food, so its consumption in this country has grown strongly in recent times. In fact, it is present in the healthy eating campaign promoted by the first lady, Michelle Obama ", comments Manuel Alcaíno.
Something similar has happened in Europe, where there are currently markets that are willing to pay large sums of money for this fruit. For the same reason, the Blueberry Committee highlights that in the last season, in addition to continuing to strengthen the promotion in England and Germany - the two markets in Europe that buy more Chilean blueberries - activities were carried out in two new markets, where Chile did not register participation with this species: Ireland and France.
But perhaps the market where the biggest hopes of the world's cranberries are encrypted is China, a country that to date consumes around 30.000 tons. For this reason, the bet of the exporters is to continue making promotions, in order that this figure may increase in the medium term.
"While I do not believe that the blueberry will captivate the Chinese as cherry has done, there is a good chance that this market could consume 100.000 tons in a period of about five years, which would be excellent for us. News"warns Alcaino.
Source: Revista del Campo
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