The Argentine cherry industry opened up a new chapter last week when it carried out the first shipment of fruit via Chile to the recently opened Chinese market, and the country is now aiming to diversify arrival channels and establish its place in the market.
Fresh Fruit Portal spoke with various industry players, who highlighted that the work ahead is perhaps even more important than the work to achieve the export protocol, which allowed for the export of 160 metric tons (MT) of cherries from the provinces of Río Negro, Chubut and Neuquén.
Aníbal Caminiti, general manager of the Argentine Chamber of Integrated Cherry Growers (CAPCI) said: “The future of the sector is working on the domestic Chinese market to amplify the entry of our fruit.”
“We want to move a bit away from the traditional channels, the more common ones, and start to work on penetrating other spaces,” Caminiti said.
Carols Enriquez, managing partner of Vista Alegre, added that while Argentina’s cherry industry isn’t as developed as Chile’s, the opening of the Chinese market presents a plethora of opportunities.
“We have to begin working on developing channels, beginning to develop clients, and with time we are going to make progress, because the interior of China is very big. There are lots of big cities - not just the ones that we know, but other big cities with a very large consumption capacity,” he said.
Aside from the efforts to boost its presence in the market, Alejandro Zimmermann, CEO of Rio Alara, said the Argentine cherry industry is also starting to focus more on the production, packaging and logistical side in order to arrive to China with the best possible quality.
“To arrive and have good results, you need to do more than just open and supply a market - you need to supply it with responsibility and quality,” he said.
One area the industry will work on is varietal reconversion. As Argentine cherry growers have traditionally been focused on selling to the strong domestic market which has historically absorbed the majority of volumes, the varieties are not ideal for traveling.
“Varietal reconversion is going to be needed, new projects with later varieties in terms of what we will send to China, as well as areas and regions of Argentine with earlier varieties in order to supply this market from the beginning until the end,” Zimmermann said.
The first Argentine cherries should arrive to China in the first 10 days of February, having left from the Chilean ports of San Antonio and Valparaiso.
“The fruit arrival time depends on each company. If they do a fast sea transit, what we call the Cherry Express, or if they use conventional transit. There can be quite a big difference in the number of days, but it’s normally between 23 and 40 days,” Caminiti said.
Argentine growers are expected to harvest cherries until around Feb. 20, and so China will likely be supplied with Argentine fruit until the end of March or early April.
Around 60% of the cherries are harvested during November and December, and so the volumes sent to China this season will be very limited.
“They are not very significant volumes, they were mainly done so that the inspectors can come and see the fruit, get to know the area, and analyze how this fruit arrives,” said Gerardo Salvado, general manager of Rio Negro-based Ceco.
“For this first year, all of our containers will arrive into Hong Kong and then pass into Guangzhou, and there are so few that they are not going to have any impact on the market.”
But for next season onwards, Argentina is aiming to have more fruit available for the Chinese market.
“The Chinese consumer distinguishes over quality more than origin, so the expectation is to learn, to be part of the value chain, to be a complement to other production areas and to generate a sustainable supply,” Enriquez said.