As output soars, investment in promotions, quality and logistics will be key to preventing an erosion in value

Chile’s cherry sector will have to find 110m new Chinese consumers to meet the surge in volumes coming through in the next two years. The stark challenge was set out by Claudia Soler, executive director of the Chilean Fruit Cherry Committee, during last week’s Global Cherry Summit in Santiago.


Claudia Soler of the Chilean Cherry Committee

The event, organised by Yentzen Group and the Chilean Fruit Cherry Committee, drew some 1,400 industry representatives from the international cherry business.

Chilean cherry production is forecast to grow 37 per cent to 115m cartons in 2024/25 and reach 130m cartons by 2027. According to Claudio Vial of exporter Ranco, Chile now supplies 99 per cent of all cherries imported by China.

Setting out the consumption challenge Chile faces, Soler said: “We expect to have 115m cartons next season and 125m cartons in the season after, which means that in the next two years we have to find 110m new Chinese consumers – that is to say, we have to get 110m people who do not currently consume Chilean cherries to start doing so”.

This will require continued investment in promotional campaigns, Soler said. Referencing the results of a study carried out by the Committee into consumer habits at different stages of the season, she noted that consumer purchasing habits changed as the season progressed.

“At the beginning of the season, packaging is not a big factor in their purchasing decision, but as the Chinese New Year approaches, it does begin to be relevant. So we have to fine-tune our campaign accordingly,” she said.

“We also cannot forget about young people, a segment where we have been losing penetration and which we have to captivate and bring closer to the category again.”

Soler said the growers and exporters could take one of two paths: keep doing the same and see the category lose value as prices and demand fall, or listen to the market, identify challenges such as quality and size and invest what is required to increase the value of the current category and attract new consumers.

Addressing the logistical challenges that the sector faces, Vial explained that while production of early fruit is growing significantly, Chile’s production peak will continue to be in weeks 50 and 51 due to the overlap of varieties and greater productivity of Lapins.

The sector has made significant investments in processing capacity to handle the huge increase in output, but going forward, Vial said it would be vital for the shipping companies to ensure that they made enough containers available and coordinated services to match capacity with during peak production.

In 2024/25, he predicted that the production peak will occur in weeks 50-51, when 12,900 containers will be required, Vial said.

Giving his summary of the recently-concluded campaign, Cristián Tagle, president of the Chilean Fruit Cherry Committee, said it had been “unprecedented”, in terms of quality, logistics and volumes handled during the peak weeks of the season.

Tagle said the industry had undergone a seven-fold increase in export volumes from 11m to 80m boxes. He noted that there are now 50 companies that export more than 100 containers in a season.

“The truth is that if they had told us how this season would end, after those fateful days of rain at the beginning of November 2023, we would not have believed it possible,” Tagle told the 1,400 delegates.

“There are many factors that made this possible, but the two components without which none of this would have been possible were quality and logistics – this must always accompany us, since we will have more and more volume,” he said.

Tagle explained that this was down to “remarkable public-private collaboration” with the Agricultural and Livestock Service, SAG on phytosanitary issues and in the development of online inspections, which allowed exporters to improve efficiency and reduce packaging and shipping times of fruit by about 50 per cent.

In terms of logistics, Tagle said that the arrival ports in China have increased in the last two seasons, reaching seven today, including the port of Tianjin.

Looking ahead, Ivan Marambio, president of Frutas de Chile, was optimistic about the growth opportunities for Chilean cherries in China. “Chinese cherry consumption is very high during the summer,” he said. “In July the markets consumes approximately 1.6m tonnes of cherries and we are sending them less than 400,000 tonnes, which shows that there is room to grow. Why couldn’t they consume 1.6m tonnes in the winter as well?”