Aussie cherries could take on Chile in China

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Aussie cherries could take on Chile in China

The Australian cherry industry is expecting a bumper crop of more than 13,000 metric tons (MT) and is looking for new ways to boost consumption. While sailing superstar Jessica Watson will be promoting the fruit at home, a delegation is heading to China today with the hopes of negotiating access to the market before Christmas, which would imply direct competition with Chile. 

Cherry Growers Australia president Andrew Smith, has told the delegation will fly to Hong Kong, before heading west to the city of Nanning in the province of Guangxi for negotiations.

"We’re trying to open the Chinese market because we believe that China is looking forward to counter seasonal cherry consumption," he says.

"They’re already getting Chilean cherries in our timeslot, but we believe we’ve got a superior product and as we’re closer we can come to the market with fresher cherries - Chile is a big competitor but they’re more a volume type of player so we need to look at ourselves as top end producers.

"We’re hoping at some stage to have access for cherries this year, which would either be pre-Christmas or just Christmas."

According to figures from Chile's Office of Agriculture Studies and Policy (ODEPA), in 2010 the country exported 5,408MT of cherries to China with a value of US$35.4 million. From January to October in 2011 the South American nation shipped 7,809MT to China with a value of US$30.5 million.

Argentina is another emerging player in the Chinese cherry market.

Smith says Australia has 2,485 hectares of cherry production with expected output between 13,000-15,000MT this year, of which 80% will likely go to the domestic market and 20% overseas.

He highlights Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Hong Kong as important and growing export markets, but last year difficult weather conditions meant Australia didn't ship too much product compared to previous years.

"Obviously this year hopefully we’ll have the rains so that we can have that 20%, because you’re better of not being in the export market if it’s going to not be the right quality. Last year a lot of growers pulled their heads in on exports.

"But all factors considered we’re in pole position but we have to start the race and hopefully we’ll get to the finish. Everything has been going in the right direction."

That 'everything' includes a full soil profile, a good amount of rain and a cool winter, which has led to a 'beautifully developed' crop.

"Cherries are a true superfruit packed with nutrients and, kilo for kilo, they stack up as a fantastic value option against other superfruits like fresh berries, products such as those made from goji, noni and acai, and processed treats like chocolate bars and crisps. This makes them the ideal summer snack," says Smith.

"Top quality, juicy Aussie cherries will hit shelves from November through to February, with supply peaking in December and January."

Sailor and cherry ambassador Jessica Watson

Australian consumption

On the home front, Jessica Watson - the youngest person to ever sail non-stop around the globe - will be promoting Australian cherries in marketing campaigns, while also eating the fruit in the iconic Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

"Australian cherries are one of my favourite snacks - they are absolutely delicious, healthy and great value for money," she says.

"Our growers work really hard to produce high quality fruit so it's important we cherish every moment of the short but delectably sweet season, which only lasts for around 100 days.

"Cherries are also a good source of Vitamin C, contain no fat or cholesterol and are packed with antioxidants."

Smith names IGA as one retailer that will host marketing with Jessica Watson and Australian cherries.

He adds that imports of counter seasonal produce from the Northern Hemisphere have added value to the industry.

Australia has a wide range of cherry-growing areas with varieties including the Merchant, Bing, Supreme, Empress, Stella, Lapin, Sweetheart, Simone, Kordia, Van and Ron's Seedling.

Related stories: Aussie stonefruit to expand Asian scope

China snapshot: Chile's growing fruit trade with the Asian giant

Chile revises cherry export forecast

Argentine cherry co-op predicts 42% production rise

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