PMA: Chile feels the heat under Chinese cherry demand

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PMA: Chile feels the heat under Chinese cherry demand

Cherry prices skyrocketed during this most recent Chinese New Year thanks to the newly found frenzy over this delicate and expensive fruit in Asia. With greater market access in China, opportunities - and huge profit potential - abound. In a AlbertoNavajaspanel on global production trends at PMA Fresh Connections: China, however, Alberto Navajas of Rucaray S.A, warned the audience against possible bottlenecks in the foreseeable future.

Currently, five countries - the U.S., Chile, New Zealand, Australia and Tajikistan - are allowed to import cherries into mainland China.

"We could expect more smaller countries to enter the Chinese market, and that is good for the continuous supply of cherries," Navajas said.

Currently, most cherries entering China come from Chile. While consumption is still growing, Navajas warned of risks that will need to be mitigated in the future.

"We have a very intense Chilean season here in China," the panelist said.

According to him, every year, Chilean cherry exports to China represent 10% of the global volume traded worldwide. About 2,000 containers were sent this year.

"75% of our total volume goes to Asia, from which 62% goes to mainland China," Navajas said.

"This is amazing, but a little bit scary. It could be a risk, as we are working mainly to supply China."

Hong Kong and Taiwan account for 6% and 5% of annual Chilean cherry exports, respectively.

"It is a little bit concerning in terms of portfolio. We are a little bit too concentrated on China, which is good and bad," he said.

Navajas went on to explain why big sales in China are a mixed blessing.

"On one hand, we have a very strong supply. There is so much interest in cherries that today we can find 25 breeding programs in Chile for creating new varieties," he said.

"However, the weakness of the supply is that sometimes we have unpredictable quality, mainly because of the weather. We have big weather exposure; sometimes it’s difficult to commit volumes from the exporters."

He said it is vital to improve quality control and move toward standardization.

The high demand on the Chinese market can also backfire, as exporters get too comfortable.

"The demand is so high that the exporters sometimes are just sitting back waiting for the best opportunity. And that is challenging for us, and it’s also a weakness of the industry," he said.

From a distribution perspective, Navajas pointed out that China as a market presents many challenges as well.

"Although China is the biggest market for Chile, sometimes there’s little statistical information available," Navajas said.

"Sometimes the importers are presenting themselves as not so different from each other. And that is a challenge and a weakness as well."

When it comes to the logistics, Navajas said more education is needed.

"We know that the demand is enough, but sometimes the logistics trap us in a bottleneck. The most important thing is to communicate the cherry attributes," he said.

Another problem that could be a ticking bomb for Chilean cherries in the Chinese market is the lack of branding.

"I couldn’t find any more expensive cherries than those," Navajas said, showing two pictures of cherries to the audience, both wrapped on a plate.

"And you can notice there's no brand. No brand at all. So you can imagine the big opportunities lost here are amazing."

With all those challenges, greater consumption growth still lies ahead, concentrated not only in China, but worldwide.

"For 2015, we can expect 27% growth, which is a big challenge," Navajas said.

"If we look at the consumption per capita, the average worldwide is 300 grams. Luckily we don’t have the consumption per capita of Italy in China, because otherwise no one of us could eat cherries, as they would all be consumed in China."

Navajas added half-jokingly, "We can increase the consumption in China, but please not too much."

He also highlighted the dominance of a few countries in the industry, helping the audience to better understand the global outlook.

"It's very interesting because we have very dominant players in the global market. The U.S., Chile and Turkey account for about half of the amount traded. And the top three importers by region, which are Russia, China/Hong Kong and USA/Canada, also share about half of the total volume traded," he said.

Currently, total production worldwide is around 2.4 million MT, from which 370,000 MT are traded, the equivalent of around 18,000 containers.


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