Oppenheimer upbeat on South American stonefruit season

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Oppenheimer upbeat on South American stonefruit season

North American produce company Oppenheimer Group is gearing up for its procurement of South American stonefruit in November, and so long as the weather holds up it forecasts volume growth. Chilean growers think a record cherry season might be on the cards, while retailers will be hoping for a smoother supply transition between the different fruits. Oppenheimer South American stonefruit manager Evan Myers tells www.freshfruitportal.com how the fruit is in for a breath of fresh air in terms of promotions and new varieties.

Oppenheimer Group's Karin Gardner and Evan Myers

Myers admits that stonefruit markets have been 'quiet' in recent years, which is why the company now plans to bolster marketing campaigns and source new varieties from Chile.

"I think we’re going to focus a lot of energy and spend a lot of time on our marketing team to really get the word out about Chilean stonefruit, and really put it in the consumer’s face. I don’t think it has been in the last couple of years, and I know we need to get involved with more specific varieties," he says.

"I think the demand is there and they will buy the fruit if it eats well, and they will buy the fruit if it can tell a story - you can have QR codes, and a display with a picture of a grower on it.

"I don't think people realize how beautiful a place Chile is, thinking that you're standing in a peach orchard looking up at the Andes, and if you can show people that they’ll have more of a connection with the growers and I think you'll increase sales."

He points out that last season was difficult for a lot of Chilean growers due to the timing of different harvests, which also led to problems for retail promotions.

"There was a lot of time between the varieties, between peaches and nectarines let's say, so it was harder for retailers to really get retail promotions in place.

"That was a struggle and I think a lot of the retailers are looking at that. It helps when the peaches and nectarines and plums arrive, and you can put ads in place and drive promotions.

"But for cherries it was a successful season, apricots too, plums had a very good year - we have a very strong late program that goes through May which seems to work very well. I think last year was very difficult but there were some positives as well."

He says expects steady volumes for the upcoming season with increased volumes planned and better distribution in the U.S. and Canada.

Argentine cherry growth

While Myers expects Chilean cherry volumes to grow exponentially in the years to come, he also highlights the rise of Argentina with the fruit.

"You’re also going to see big growth out of Argentina with cherries. They're a couple of years behind Chile as far as production goes, but they have fruit that’s going to be coming on in the next couple years. It typically comes in a little later than Chile, so you’ll see fruit being more available to retailers from the front part of February, and mid-February.

Photo: Oppenheimer

"We have a grower that handles some of our pears and some cherries in the Neuquen province (Argentina), and it’s a medfly-free zone, so we’re looking to get in some organic stonefruit, but it’s hard to compete with the Chilean product because they really come in together at the same time.

"Argentina has a higher cost of getting the fruit in here, so unless you have a customer that specifically wants Argentine stonefruit, it’s a little bit price prohibitive."

South African stonefruit green light

While Myers heads up Oppenheimer's South American stonefruit procurement, he is positive about the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) recent recommendation that South African apricots, sweet cherries and plumcots are safe to import in the U.S.

"I think those are all three very good commodities that work well in the U.S. I think the plumcots have a very good opportunity here, apricots as well and again, cherries as well but it’s all about timing and I think that's true for most commodities.

"If they’re going to arrive when markets are saturated with product from Chile, I don't know if there’s necessarily going to be this huge demand for them. But if there are windows they can hit I think it’s going to be perfect -you have to wait and see. I’m excited about the plumcots."

The U.S. is basically covered for stonefruit supply, with Chile's season running from roughly November to May, while California's season goes from about May until October.

"Between California and South America, there’s not really a big window to come in. If South Africa can come in with a great new pluot variety that no one has, then yes that’s going to work, but I don’t see any other major markets that are going to be able to come in and take control."

A new air in Chile

Myers says Chile is now planting new stonefruit varieties, which could have a significant impact on the industry in the future.

"I know that new peach varieties top of the list. I'm not going to get into the varieties right now, but that’s going to be the biggest innovation to come," he says.

"Peaches are in need of a new breath, to be re-energized, so I think that’s going to be the next new step; I think new plum varieties too, you're going to see pluots come in, apricots need a new breath on varieties as well.

And as the Chilean stonefruit season beckons for 2011-12, Myers  says Oppenheimer will continue to be strong in the category.

"You just don’t know how the season’s going to unfold now – we’re upbeat, we’re going to be pushing hard, we need that customer demand, we need retailers to get behind it.

"We’re going to get our strength behind it with marketing; we’re not just a selling organization but a marketing organization, so we really have to focus some of that energy into the category, and I think we’ll do that really well."

Related stories: Chile could pop cherry record

Chile's peach area down, cherries set to rise


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