Blueberries are now the UK’s third-largest fruit import from Chile, after table grapes and red apples. Already the biggest counter-seasonal supplier, Chile projects its exports will continue rising over the next five years as existing production reaches full maturity. Produce Business UK catches up with Charif Christian Carvajal from the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (Asoex) to uncover the potential for Chile to spread its berry wings across new market avenues within the UK, where demand for blues is skyrocketing
“The UK has long been a stable and mature market for Chilean fruit exports in general,” begins Carvajal, who is marketing director for Europe and Asia at the Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association (Asoex).
“However, we have seen interesting growth with blueberries. Last season there was an uplift in exports to the UK, which basically proved to us that the UK is still a very important market in terms of increasing consumption, especially when it comes to berries.”
Last season (2014/15), Asoex figures indicate that Chile exported directly to the UK some 9,670 tonnes of fresh blueberries between October and April. That was a sizeable increase from the 6,150t delivered in 2013/14 and 6,279t in 2012/13.
“The UK has been a stable market for our exports and then this season we saw important growth in terms of blueberry exports, which proved there is still room to grow in the UK [for Chile] in terms of penetration,” Carvajal notes.
Thanks to reasonably high blueberry penetration of 30-35%, Carvajal says the UK has always been a key market for Chilean blueberries. “The UK is one of the most complex markets in terms of retailing and distribution (from a European perspective). We’ve seen it expand over the years and there is still space for more volume.”
Looking at the statistics, the UK is currently one of the top markets for Chilean blueberries. Combined, the UK and Europe absorb 23% of Chile’s global blueberry trade, according to Asoex data. Within that, the UK and Germany are the leading markets, receiving at least 85% of Europe-bound shipments.
Convenience, foodservice & online
Carvajal says: “One of the amazing characteristics of the UK market is that it’s always changing. The discounters are now leading the retail landscape, which would’ve been unheard of a few years ago. There are always new opportunities opening up in UK distribution and Chile is always looking for new alternatives.”
He points out that the UK’s sophisticated foodservice market could be one avenue to tap into with blueberries, in addition to convenience and online, which are also growing and gaining in popularity among consumers. “There are new opportunities in the UK,” he confirms.
On the retail scene, while he says both UK retailers and the importer-distributors are doing a good job of pushing blueberries, Carvajal concedes that the fruit remains an impulse purchase; meaning the entire industry, going right back to the growers, needs to be looking at new ways of presenting and using blueberries to continually inspire consumption.
Major snacking opportunity
Capitalising on the snacking trend could be one goal to target within the convenience market, particularly in view of a recent report into the snacking preferences of Europeans, where fresh fruit came out on top.
In its study, Nielsen asked consumers around the world what one snack they would choose above all others. The [top] answer was fresh fruit, although chocolate was a close second.
Across the five continents, and by large margins, global respondents said fresh fruit (18%) was the snack of choice out of a list of 47 different snacking options, followed by chocolate (15%). And within a period of 30 days, 62% of global respondents said they’d snacked on fresh fruit. The figure was the same for Europe, while it fell to 55% in the US.
“It’s definitely an area to explore; how Chilean fruit can be a preferred snack,” Carvajal notes. “Europeans have grown to associate fresh fruit with snacking. We’ll be looking to position blueberries as a snack item and we’ll develop the snacking concept into our European promotions in the coming seasons too.”
To better position blueberries as a great snack item, Carvajal says the industry is developing innovative packaging concepts, in particular. “A lot of companies have invested time and effort into creating new packaging ideas. There are very good packaging concepts out there from berry punnets to shakers (or cups) of blueberries that you can put in the cup holders in your car, for example.
“Blueberries and their packaging also need to be convenient for retailers; to encourage them to dedicate more shelf space to the fruit. Then we’ll get more product in stores with a greater rotation and higher pick-up by consumers.”
Pancake Day promotion
As well as devising strategies to position Chilean blueberries as a snacking item, next January the Chilean Blueberry Committee, with the support of the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture and ProChile, in close collaboration with the Seasonal Berry Campaign will promote blueberries as a healthy and exciting alternative to sugar for Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday).
Supported by a well-known UK cook, who joins the campaign as brand ambassador, numerous recipe ideas will be made available to inspire consumers to add blueberries to their pancakes.
“The Chilean blueberry industry has undertaken annual promotions in the UK over the last decade,” Carvajal says. “This year we wanted to upgrade the activity into a campaign that we can build on in years to come.
“We had good discussions with the UK importers and distributors who form part of the Seasonal Berry Campaign, and together we came up with the idea of focusing on a specific period of time during the Chilean season to promote our blueberries – around Pancake Day.
“We want to promote healthy eating and fresh blueberry consumption in the UK by showcasing blueberries as an alternative ingredient to sugar-laced sauces in pancake recipes and other desserts. Currently, there is a huge focus in the UK on reducing your sugar intake and, by far, blueberries are the healthy alternative.”
The brand ambassador will create recipes for the campaign alongside talking to the media (radio and print) about the benefits of blueberries from a nutritional aspect and their versatility in recipes.
“People love recipes,” claims Carvajal. “They always want more usage ideas. So, we expect the new recipes, coupled with our brand ambassador, to have a real impact.”
Retail activities are also anticipated, although they will be developed by importers together with their retailer customers. Already, however, Carvajal says the UK retailers are fully supportive of the campaign and its concept.
“The key bonus of working with the Seasonal Berry Campaign is through them we are in constant contact with the UK importers and retailers,” he points out. “They are all aware of the campaign and the retailers have got behind it, which is good for us because at the end of the day we’ll see activities pushed by the retailers too.”
To promote increased sales of Chilean blueberries before and after Pancake Day and to highlight Chile as a source of supply, the campaign will also distribute a series of press releases, recipes and advertorials in national newspapers, including the Metro, the Sun, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, as well as promotions via social media and radio.
Improved industry information
In the meantime, any buyer looking for information about the Chilean blueberry crop as the season progresses, can check out the new online crop report tool developed by the Chilean Blueberry Committee.
“The growers identified a need to develop reliable information that can be provided to the trade on a timely basis to help them make better informed decisions,” Carvajal reveals.
“There are weekly updates that are freely available to all buyers. There’s a brief summary of what is happening that week, as well as harvesting updates from each growing region, export volumes by week and market against the previous season, statistics for frozen blueberry exports and a weather forecast.
“Rather than a five-page newsletter, the online report is very simple. The committee has fine-tuned what the industry really needs to know. Not many industries do it but it makes everything more transparent.”
To view the latest weekly report, go to chileanblueberrycommittee.com and select the page titled ‘Crop Report’.