Blueberry growers cotton on to benefits of packing on arrival

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Blueberry growers cotton on to benefits of packing on arrival

Chilean-American company Nexus Produce is adapting to market trends with the sourcing of bulk blueberry shipments, packing the fruit on arrival in Miami to tailor to the ever-changing needs of retailers. At, we catch up with the company's president Julio Ortuzar and general manager Roberto Bopp to hear more about their distribution model that has expanded into new growing regions.

Both executives highlight the difficulties blueberry exporters face in meeting the packaging needs of clients that can change frequently at the behest of market whims.

"At one moment the market is demanding 12-13 different formats, so when you take the decision to pack 25 days before - when you go by ship - it doesn't always fit with current demand," Bopp says.

Photo: Nexus Produce

Photo: Nexus Produce

"This was one of the problems that I saw, principally in the U.S. We always arrived with one format and clients were demanding a different one. We coudl never make sales management optimal," Ortuzar adds.

"When we started this project a few years ago now, everything that we were doing was aiming to add value to the distribution supply chain and reduce risk, because the main problem we heard was the risk of perishable products."

With this issue in mind, which not only affects blueberries but fruits like cherries too, Ortuzar saw packing on arrival as the only answer.

"We offer directly to supermarket chains in the U.S. We don't have any intermediary, so they saw that we were delivering a fresher product, that we were packing and deliver the next day or two days later," Ortuzar said.

"There was a market niche that was not being exploited. There are supermarket chains like Sam's Club and Costco that were big in packing but there were many other chains that were interested in developing special packing programs but didn't have the continuity of packaging supply."

He mentions that U.S.-based Nexus Produce, Inc. imports and distributes berries from a variety of sources, including local, Mexican, Argentine and Uruguayan fruit.

"What would happen if I pack at origin and this product reaches the destination and the client says: 'you know, there is not much demand, I don't need this fruit now'. I'd be left with the fruit because I wouldn't be able to sell it anywhere.

"From the customer side there is an instant benefit. There was a demand for this that we were making, and little by little we were optimizing the process and delivering value to the product."

Nexus Produce (Chile) S.A. is betting on a direct harvest model in Chile with growers from Curicó (Maule region) to Loncoche (Araucanía region), with the goal of bringing the benefits of packing on arrival to producers.

"Today we are betting on a harvest scheme direct to the box, and that suits many growers a lot. It is an efficient and convenient way for them - they don't have to manage enormous inventories of material, it simplifies life a lot for them, and apart from that it gives them the security that if there is a problem we are eliminating it at destination."

After success on the Chilean front, Nexus Produce started buying fruit from the U.S. states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in order to continue production from May to August, and later follow up with Argentine supply.

Other latitudes: Europe and Asia

Ortuzar says the company also ships to the markets of Asia and Europe, where customers are also demanding bulk blueberries.

"The major players [in Europe] today are importing bulk and packing on arrival," he says.

He says that during Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong last year, he was able to hear firsthand about how fruit was re-packed on arrival for Asian markets.

"I met with some Japanese clients and consulted them about the formats they would take. They said: '125 grams', but I had seen different formats, and they answered: 'yes, what happens is that we take those 125 grames we put them in different packaging".

"The Chinese also have the same need. They make and want different types of packing. For example, online fruit retail is very strong in China. We went to one of the plants that does online retail requests for fruit, and they took, for example, four kiwifruit and put them in another pack and that was their kiwifruit sales unit.

"In blueberries thy did the same. They want to create packs that are more suited to what the local people like."

He adds the company spoke with at least two Chinese companies that were interested in importing fruit in bulk.

Last season's challenges: port strikes and Lobesia botrana

The detection of European Grapevine Moth (Lobesia botrana) during inspection activities in the Chielan regions of O'Higgins and Maule led to a great deal of uncertainty for the sector in the recent season.

"We did not know exactly what the results would be, but we knew that before any adversity of condition on arrival, we would be the best prepared because in the end we could work with the product at destination," Ortuzar says.

"I believe that being positioned in this way and managing exports, imports and packing ourselves, allowed us to optimize the process a lot."

In terms of the port strikes, he says it was another difficult moment that the Chilean fruit industry had to face together.

"The port strike produced great economic damage, but it didn't affecet us much. We had cargo from Valparaiso that we could save."

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