Thirst for change in Chile's dried fruit industry

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Thirst for change in Chile's dried fruit industry

Chile's dried fruit and nut industries have witnessed a boom in recent times, partly a by-product of an extensive horticultural industry but also tied to changing consumer habits. At Dried Fruit & Nut Congress Chile 2012, both local and international experts discussed the setbacks and opportunities the sector faced.

Chile's prune export industry has shot up to more than three times what it was in 2003, with US$112 million worth of exports last year at volumes of 57,966MT.

Maipofoods general manager Antonio Aguirre told the conference the country would likely ship 78,000MT in 2012 - a figure that would surpass 2010's record by 16%.

For the industry to make these volumes profitable the emphasis needs to be on quality, which Aguirre said had room for improvement.

"In Chile we have an industry with different levels of quality. We don't offer standard products like California and that carries a cost," he said.

"We are not very rigorous in the selection process of what is shipped out and that affects our profitability. This year, 66% of the crop was small-to-medium sized."

He added an aggressive marketing strategy was also lacking, with a need to put the word out that the fruit was not only beneficial for constipation problems, but that it was a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as having properties that help restore bone mass.

California-based Sunsweet Growers Incorporated chief operating officer Dane Lance, echoed Aguirre's comments when highlighting U.S. consumers were not attracted to the products as its benefits were focused on the elderly demographic.

Lance said Chile needed to diversify its markets, pointing out that China was looking for smaller-sized fruit and that Californian growers were being encouraged to plant fruit with those characteristics.

Dried apple opportunities

Surfrut manager Joyce Abrahams focused her presentation on the new paths the industry needed to be taking, like the development of 'healthy snacks' to incentivize consumption of the fruit that currently usually goes to bakeries.

Chile is the world's top exporter of dried apples with US$32 million worth of shipments last year; a steady return in the face of 16% fall in export volume.

However, Abrahams said production costs have increased due to labor shortages, driving a need for the sector to adopt better technology.

She highlighted importer concentration as another issue, with the majority of exporters sending their products to the U.S. and Europe. She urged businesses to seek new markets in a bid to improve profitability.

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