Chilean blueberry sector should exploit 'ready to eat' concept -

Chilean blueberry sector should exploit 'ready to eat' concept

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Chilean blueberry sector should exploit 'ready to eat' concept

The Chilean blueberry industry is no longer facing the so-called 'crisis' of four years ago of low prices and negative returns but instead the challenge of maximising opportunities. In an interview with Naturipe Farms executive vice president of marketing Robert Verloop, talks about what's important now.

Verloop, when interviewed at the time by, preferred to refer to the 2008 predicament of export oversupply and insufficient demand as 'growing pains' rather than a crisis, which suggests a breakdown of market fundamentals.

In his opinion it was a market adjustment resulting from a mistaken perception in Chile that blueberry consumption in the U.S. was high.

Today, although there is still a need to continue increasing blueberry consumption, the situation is more about making the most of opportunities, says Verloop.

One of the most notable recent advances, he highlights, is the change in package size to a pint in place of six ounces in peak season periods.

Verloop adds the growth of major retailers has been beneficial for the industry, as it has allowed a greater volume of fruit and produce movement consistent with program promotions.

He emphasizes the existence of new opportunities, such as food service and convenience stores, to penetrate the market further and move export volumes upwards.

"I think we will see a greater emphasis on quality and taste," relates Verloop.

He stresses that flavor is the key to facing competition from other available fruits grown locally in the market.

"The combination of quality and taste is the key. This is not a new 'growing pain' but a continuing evolution of the industry. It's part of how to optimize opportunities," he explains.

Such opportunities highlight the importance of innovation to expand market opportunities "and bring our products to more and new consumers."

He says the agreement between Naturipe Farms' partner Hortifrut, and McDonald's to supply fresh blueberries to 14,000 company-operated restaurants in North America is a great example.

"The category ready to eat is a tremendous selling tool," emphasizes Verloop.

During 2009-10 Chile exported a total of 49,890 metric tons (MT), which grew to 69,922MT in 2010-11 and 70,102MT in 2011-12 with the U.S. accounting for 80% of the volume.

According to iQonsulting executive director Isabel Quiroz, there are currently 12,212 hectares of blueberry plantations, distributed between regions III and XII.

In Verloop's opinion one of the strengths of the Chilean industry is its maturity and organization, with a high level of technology and cultivation knowledge.

Among the opportunities he sees, are the development of new possibilities through product research and the growth of new markets like Asia and Latin America.

Some of the weaknesses he notes, are large concentrations of U.S. shipments and low penetration in Asia.

Related stories: Changes at play for Argentine and Uruguayan blueberries

Hortifrut gains McDonald's blueberry deal

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