The Chile Prunes Association and Chilean Walnut Commission have pinpointed the UK as a key target market in view of opportunities for growth among all buying sectors. Produce Business UK talks to Andrés Rodríguez, who heads up both organisations, to find out how the two sectors plan to make their break
With Chile positioning itself as a leading world supplier of dried fruit and nuts on the back of an explosion in production in recent years, the industry is keen to speak with UK importers, wholesalers and retailers about the potential to expand its market share for prunes and develop a niche market for premium walnuts.
“The entire nut and dried fruit industry [in Chile] is growing very fast,” Rodríguez tells PBUK. “In 2014 exports reached US$810.3 million (£520m) in value and we expect that this year exports will total US$1 billion (£641m).”
Chile is already the world’s largest exporter of prunes and the third-biggest supplier of walnuts, as well as the leading supplier of walnuts in the Southern Hemisphere, according to Rodríguez. This year, the South American nation produced 77,000 tonnes of prunes across around 12,000 hectares, up from 65,000t in the previous year.
Although the association anticipates its prune plantations will stabilise it predicts that, depending on weather conditions, production could be increased further to 90,000t. In walnuts, meanwhile, Chile produced 62,000t across 37,500ha this year, and the commission estimates the crop could double in the next five years.
While there are opportunities for the entire Chilean nut and dried fruit portfolio, especially with the expansion in production, Rodríguez believes there is a “great opportunity” for Chile to become a strategic partner for the UK’s prune business in particular.
“The UK is one of the most important prune importers in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe, with imports above 8,000t,” he explains. “Currently Chile represents almost 50% of that total (3,942t in 2014) so there is great potential [to expand] given the demand for prunes. Last year, our exports rose 18% compared with the previous season, which was an important increase in our market share.”
To date, the Chilean prune sector has focused largely on the UK import and retail trades, but following its recent participation at UK trade show IFE 2015 in London, the body is keen to explore other routes to market where Rodríguez claims buyers can expect “top quality, bumper supply”.
“We had the opportunity to target other segments such as foodservice, ingredients suppliers and wholesalers. Until now, we’ve been increasing our exports to UK through a growing market share of importers. Thanks to stable demand we’re also increasing our presence in wholesale, retail and foodservice. But if we want to raise the demand further we need to develop more consumption among the different segments of users.”
Rodríguez says both prunes and walnuts from Chile lend themselves well to the foodservice sector as well as home cooking. “These are products that can be used in many different recipes, with meat, salads and desserts or even by themselves as a snack,” he points out. “They could be adapted to most world cuisines and the best thing is that besides having great flavour they are very healthy products.”
Quality is a key attribute of both Chilean prunes and walnuts, according to Rodríguez, thanks to the country’s Mediterranean climate which is ideal for production. “The quality all along the process from the orchard to processing satisfies the most demanding standards too,” he adds.
The prune association has launched initial promotional activities under its sector brand ‘Prunes from Chile’ in UK. “It’s the first time we’ve developed any marketing activities in the UK, and we’re very happy with our first approach; it was very successful,” says Rodríguez, adding that in the near future he hopes some efforts will be focused on the end user too.
“Most of our marketing campaigns are carried out in Asia (China and Japan), as those are the markets that need more development, but we would like to continue looking for new ideas to promote our products in the UK. Already, the exporters are making great efforts to continue growing their position in the British market.”
Indeed, Rodríguez says IFE represented an ideal opportunity to learn about the different segments in the UK, such as the ingredients sector and foodservice. “We learnt a lot about the requirements of those segments, and that will help to guide our industry,” he notes.
In the case of walnuts, meanwhile, Rodríguez explains that the UK is not a very developed market for Chile, which presents niche opportunities for the country’s growers. “The UK imports [walnuts] mainly from Asia, especially from China and India, but it’s very much focused on low prices, so Chile does not participate very actively in this market,” he points out.
“Chile has the best quality, so we could develop a niche market in the UK that is willing to import a premium walnut. We hope in the future we can develop demand for a more premium quality supply of walnuts to the UK as Chile could be a great supplier.”
Rodríguez claims Chile is well placed to develop a counter seasonal offer to Northern Hemisphere production.
“Chilean walnuts are very well positioned worldwide, mainly because of their very light colour, great flavour and long shelf life,” he says. “The processes in Chile are of the highest quality both in the case of hand cracked walnuts (which is a boutique product), and machine cracked, which also produces great results and fewer scratches than from most other origins.”
The UK imports 12,000t of walnuts each year but only a minimal share of that volume comes from Chile, according to the commission. This year Chilean walnut production will total 62,000t, which should increase to above 70,000t next year.