Chile pomegranates in U.S. 'trial period' -

Chile pomegranates in U.S. 'trial period'

Featured Top Stories Most Read Today's Headline
Chile pomegranates in U.S. 'trial period'

With exponential growth expected for Chilean pomegranate production in the coming years, exporters are currently testing the waters in the U.S. market.

Since gaining U.S. entry approval for fresh pomegranates in May last year, Chilean producers have shipped around 30% of exports to the North American country during the 2011 season.

Amid growing global concerns about water shortages and food security, Chile’s Agricultural Innovation Foundation (FIA) is pushing for higher production of drought resistant fruit like pomegranates in arid areas. Environmental issues aside, the fruit has proven profitable for growers, for example using between 20% and 30% less water than table grape crops .

But with exponential growth expected these growers will still need to find consumers to buy the product, with the U.S. market touted as the most likely candidate to absorb extra production, potentially along with Korea once phytosanitary approvals are given.

Until last year Chile was only allowed to send the fruit's aril-covered seeds to the U.S. and by the time approval came in May, most volumes had already been directed to Europe; particularly Russia, Spain, France and Scandanavia.

But in April 2011 exporters were then able to begin the 'trial period' for whole fresh pomegranates in the U.S. market, says Subsole commercial manager Claudio Sarah.

Sarah told his company was mainly sending fresh category two pomegranates to the U.S. for processing - into aril seeds in clam shells or juices - and distribution.

He says the exports have been received well by U.S. companies who could make the most of their machinery during their off-season, but the product itself still faces challenges.

"There is the subject of quality. The Chilean pomegranate must improve. The orchards are new and therefore there is fruit that is more uneven in quality and size, and the North American consumer is accustomed to the American pomegranate, which is already established," he says.

"It’s a crop to bet on but you have to be careful."

The U.S. pomegranate industry directs around 70% of production to the local market while the remainder is exported, with 70% of shipments going to South Korea - another market on Chile's radar.

Sarah emphasizes Chilean growers need to focus on technical variables of production to avoid the sale of fruit that doesn't meet high standards and could potentially 'dirty the market'.

However, he says if the industry plays it cards right the U.S. could become Chile's main pomegranate export destination, using the Spanish expression 'battle horse'.

Subscribe to our newsletter