Prunes take center stage at Chilean conference

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Prunes take center stage at Chilean conference

More than 200 people gathered at the 3rd Prune Congress organized by Chile Prunes. The event focused on the current industry situation and the most important challenges coming in the near future. Important presenters from the United States also attended, speaking on new varieties and development possibilities.

Chile currently ranks as the number one country worldwide for prune exports with more than 72,000 tons (MT) sent out annually. To further encourage the nation's market success, Chile Prunes formed in 2012 with the help of ProChile, a governement body responsible for export promotion.

Chile Prunes President Pedro Pablo Díaz explained that the some of the sector's biggest challenges center on defending prices, maintaining focus and upholding quality.  Even more imporant, however, is generating demand for this new and ambitious industry.

"We're trying to get export companies to throw in their small part in the national retail sector. It's not an easy task because national distribution is not cheap. But we intend to take on that additional cost so that the country knows what our product is," Díaz said.

Today Chile Prunes exports 98% of its product to 72 countries. It is important for Díaz to position the product worldwide. As Chileans become international ambassadors for the product, success domestically has become more relevant.

The organization has taken its first steps to warm up to the local market with sponsorship for various activities from government program "Choose to Live Healthy" ("Elige Vivir Sano"). The funding helps distribute prunes to high schools, health centers and other public spaces.

For Chile Prunes, a significant problem that the industry must face is the lack of accurate information about the product.

"We are trying to resolve this a number of ways. One is through an alliance with Decofrut, where we are trying to get market intelligence for the short term in order to make better decisions in terms of our export efforts. And we are also trying an autonomous project where we will do an agriculture land registry to know how many Agen prune producers are working between regions IV (Coquimbo) and VII (Maule)."

Opening new markets for exporters and consumers

Dane Lance

During the Prune Congress discussions, Dane Lance, president of United States company Sunsweet Growers, chimed in. The California native, well-versed in prune exports and marketing, shed light on the dried fruit's current panorama.

Lance was emphatic in addressing the point of who new market will serve.

One objective has been to open sales on the Asian market, a reason that production has increased. According to Lance, demand on the Asian continent is not new. What is new are exporters from Chile trying to break in, which does not necessarily equal success.

Lance explained that production cannot rise because prices would drop considerably. He encouraged California and Chile, the two main producers and exporters, to join forces, expressing concern over Chile's projection to expand from 72,000 MT to 100,000 by 2016.

He did not mean to imply that the strategy was wrong and, in fact, praised Chile Prunes' work. But he said it all depends on perspective, signaling that Chile should find a way to add value to the already existing Asian market.

Chile Prunes began to introduce its brand at international events this year in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Russia. It gave the organization a chance to get a leg up on other producing countries and show off Chile's advantages, including the ideal climate.

California looks for new varieties

Sarah Castro, prune cultivar development manager at University of California Davis, presented three studies on prunes that had been in the works for 10 years.

The research focused on sweetness, size and quality, presenting two prunes that were viable for processing.

The Sutter variety had better flavor but took longer to dry, an important limiting factor. The Muir Beauty variety also had good flavor with a medium-sized oval shape. It was the most recommended, especially for early harvest.

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