How geographical advantages are helping Chile’s grape exporters stay competitive

Sun World - Chile grape

Chilean geography and climates give it an advantage as a grape exporter

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Exporters Santa Maria and Subsole believe there is market growth potential still to be realised in Europe and the UK, which they hope to exploit through the introduction of new varieties and the extended season offered by the country’s geography. Produce Business UK catches up with them ahead of the Chilean exporters’ visit to The
The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference

Starting around late November and running through to early April, Chile’s variety of climates gives the country the advantage of being able to benefit from a lengthy table-grape season that has likely contributed to the nation’s continuing success as a leading global exporter of the product.

Located in Buin, 30km south of Santiago in the middle of one of the most important fruit production zones in Chile, Compañía Frutera Santa María is a group of grower-exporters that draws its production from all of the country’s table grape producing regions.

As export manager Germán Schacht explains, one of Santa Maria’s principal strengths is that it is able to count on volumes from all the production zones and seasons available in Chile, starting in late November with early varieties from northern Copiapó Valley and finishing in late March-early April with fruit from Region VI.

“This allows us to supply markets from the start of the Chilean table grape season right through to the end, unlike some growers who only have production in the north or the south,” he says.

Although the group also has a small kiwifruit programme in March, table grapes are its dominant product, with annual volumes totalling around 1,300,000 cartons each year, including mainstays Sugraone, Thomson Seedless and Red Globe, as well as newer introductions such as Sun World’s Scarlotta and Sable Seedless.

Export opportunities 

Around 40-50% of the Santa Maria’s total volume is provided by associated growers, with the remainder is sourced from smaller, regional producers, several of which have been integrated into the group over recent seasons.

Part of four breeding groups – including Sun World, which invited Santa Maria to take part in The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference of which it is a gold sponsor – Schacht says the grower is committed to finding new table grapes to replace older varieties, particularly given strong competition from Peru in Red Globe exports.

In Europe, Santa Maria reaches markets such as Germany, Poland and Russia through Rotterdam, in addition to selling significant volumes to the UK. Only the company’s early crop goes to the US due to strong competition from South Africa during the late part of the year.

However, despite that maturity of the European market when it comes to table grapes, Schacht believes there are opportunities for growth for Chilean exporters, particularly for new varieties. As well as the Sun World varieties, he says Santa Maria will this year be focusing on promoting a relatively new grape being grown in Chile, Inia One, a black, seedless variety, which Schacht believes has a lot of potential for the UK market. “It has a very good taste and has received a very positive reception in the UK,” he says. 

Reputation for quality

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Sun World's Midnight Beauty

In common with Santa Maria, Santiago-based Subsole also draws its table grape volumes from across Chile’s five central provinces, from Copiapó down to the region of Maule. Producing table grapes from November to May, the export group specialises in both traditional and protected varieties, including Sun World’s Midnight Beauty and SNFL’s Timco.

Although the company also markets soft citrus, oranges, kiwifruit, avocados, cherries, walnuts and pomegranates, table grapes account for some 65% of its annual volume and sales.

Despite this, Subsole’s head of sales, Juan Colombo, says the company is very selective about who it works with in export markets, with the emphasis on maintaining its reputation for quality.

“The company was started in 1991 by president Miguel Alemán as a table grape grower and still is,” he explains. “We work with only a select few clients in overseas markets, over half of which are through direct retail programmes – one or two strong partners per country – where we are vendors and have developed the supply chain. The other 50% is through importers, although we work with only five-six in each country.”

Market changes

When it comes to its business with retailers, Colombo says it has been interesting to track Subsole’s global growth in tandem with that of the overseas expansion of retail clients, many of which have brought the Chilean group with them when entering new markets.

One example is the development of Subsole’s business in Asia in conjunction with its UK client Tesco, with the exporter seeing sales grow in markets such as Thailand, Malaysia and Korea (before Tesco’s decision to sell its Korean subsidiary) thanks to the retailer’s presence in the countries. Colombo believes such success stories can replicated in other markets through different retailers in future.

Closer to home, Colombo says he has seen drastic changes in the European grocery retail market in more than 20 years’ working in exports with Subsole.

“In Europe, the market has changed significantly,” he says. “Before, Holland was the main point of entry for a large volume of products, most of it controlled by Dutch companies who then supplied fresh produce across the whole of Europe.

“As direct imports started to appear, there started to be more visibility about who was who in the market and suddenly a big portion went from the traditional importer to direct business and the whole game changed. If you had asked me 20 years ago, we would have relied heavily on a local importer, but as of today direct imports account for 90% of what we are doing across Europe.”

“We have also seen the same behaviour in the UK. It has been interesting to see how it has developed and the speed with which this trend has evolved.”

An affiliate of the Sun World breeding programme, Subsole will be appearing at the Amsterdam Produce Show alongside allied grower-exporters from both Europe and South America.

The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference takes place from November 2-4 at the Westergasfabriek. Don't miss out! Register online now.  

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