Chile is getting in on the worldwide snacking boom with increasing supplies of walnuts and prunes to satisfy health-conscious consumers. Produce Business UK catches up with Andrés Rodríguez, chairman of both the Chilean Walnut Commission and the Chile Prunes Association to learn about about the outlook for the UK market
No doubt about it, prospects for Chile’s walnut growers are bright. The country is the third-largest exporter of walnuts behind the giants of the US and Turkey, but production is growing exponentially and now tops 60,000 tonnes a year.
Produced mainly in central Chile, in the Metropolitan, 5th and 6th regions, output is also on the rise further south. “This year we have reached close to 40,000ha of walnuts,” says Rodríguez. “We have been growing close to 3,000 new hectares every year.”
Global market scenario
The harvest in the South American country runs from March to April and the product is processed and exported year-round in-shell, hand-cracked and machine-cracked. And as with other sendings from Chile, although the Asian markets are growing, other destinations such as the Middle East and the UK, plus the wider European continent are also important.
“The walnut market in the UK is continuously growing,” says Rodríguez. “Exports of Chilean walnuts to the UK are very small, but the UK is a big market and Chile is constantly increasing production, so for Chile diversifying markets is always an opportunity.”
UK buyer appeal
India, China, France and the US all supply the UK and compete with Chilean product, but Rodríguez feels there is a clear advantage for UK buyers in sourcing the Latin American nuts, which benefit from their own quality standard.
“Chilean walnuts have a light colour, a great flavour and long shelf life. I think Chile can supply a niche market that is seeking the highest quality walnuts. Chile is the country that is growing fastest in walnut production, so every day it is becoming more important in the world scenario. Today, Chile is the third-largest exporter and soon it will be the second-largest exporter of walnuts. We are in counter season to the northern hemisphere so that also makes Chile a great opportunity for the UK market.”
As a healthy product that’s high in antioxidants and Omega 3 there are great opportunities for Chilean walnuts to compete in the UK – a marketplace well-known for being keen on snacking.
Prune recovery boosts fortunes
After a spell in the doldrums, an uplift in the global market and a growing convenience trend also present good news for Chile’s prune sector.
Also residing as president of the Chile Prunes Association, Rodríguez says the retail market is where he sees the greatest potential for Chilean prunes in the UK. This season sendings are up 30% year-on-year already.
“The UK is a big and highly developed retail market,” he explains. “Our main export markets are Russia, Poland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico and then the Asian countries. Our product competes with prunes from the US and France in the UK and even though Chile has a very strong position in the UK there is a still a lot of potential for us in retail, especially in convenience stores where prunes can be marketed as a healthy snack.”
The balmy Mediterranean climate in Chile’s central regions makes for great growing conditions for prunes. The Metropolitan region around the capital Santiago and the 6th region immediately to its south are where the vast majority of plums are grown for the production of prunes.
“There are about 12,000ha and production is very stable,” says Rodríguez. “After many years with low prices when there was oversupply, global production has moderated supplies to achieve a better balance of supply and demand. So now, not only in Chile, but globally, production is pretty stable.”
In Chile, the plums for the prune industry are harvested in February and then dried either in ovens or by the sun during February and March. From here they are delivered to processing plants to be tenderised, pitted and treated with the organic compound sorbic acid, which acts as a preservative.
“Prunes from Chile come in different formats and can be pitted or unpitted,” explains Rodríguez. “They retain different levels of moisture depending on the client. They are processed year-round and can also be sold in bulk or in retail pack.”
The 10 members of the Chile Prunes Association, which was founded 10 years ago, account for 80% of the prunes exported by the South American country.