For Chile’s table grape exporters, the UK as a market is of greater or lesser importance depending on their focus, but on one thing they are clear – that the new varieties being produced and soon to be produced in Chile will give a major boost to the country’s grape exports and sales in the UK. Produce Business UK speaks with three suppliers to find out what’s in store
As one of Chile’s leading table grape producer-exporters, Santiago-based David del Curto marketed some 8 million cartons of grapes – equivalent to around 19,700 tonnes – last season, of which 60% was accounted for by company-owned production.
But although traditional red, white and black seedless varieties remain at the heart of David del Curto’s grape business, it’s the newer varieties that the company’s commercial director, Rodrigo Durán, is the most excited about for the future.
For this season, David del Curto will have three new varieties – Magenta, Sweet Celebration and Sweet Jubilee – entering into production, while the near future will mark the debut of a number of additional varieties, including Melody and Cotton Candy.
The varieties, explains Durán, are large in size and feature a taste that, he argues, is often superior to traditional options. Significantly, he says the varieties coming into production will also require far less manpower than those produced to date by David del Curto since the bunches grow in a more natural manner and are far easier to harvest.
Although the company already works with three grocery retail chains in the UK, Durán believes the arrival of the fresh varieties could give an added boost to Chilean grape sales in the country and help to spark greater demand.
“The UK is a very important market for us – it’s very strict and very demanding in terms of quality, but it’s important for us because they recognise good work,” he says. “We always want to be present in this market with our best fruit.”
Another challenge for the growers has been the drought in the central and northern regions of Chile, but Durán argues that far from being a negative phenomenon the loss of acres of producing land has helped improve standards and quality in the country’s table grape sector.
“Having less production has helped improve the table grape business in Chile,” he claims. “We have been losing hectares in the north of Chile as a result of seven years of drought and competition from Peruvian growers producing Red Globe, but growers are adapting to the situation by bringing in new, seedless varieties and improving quality.”
For Chilean fresh produce marketer Freshpak, the UK has always represented an important market. More than 60% of the Chilean table grapes that the company handles go to the UK, according to the company’s Osvaldo del Río, who says that although demanding, the UK continues to offer stability in terms of prices.
As an exporter, Freshpak ships between 3,000 tonnes and 3,500 tonnes of table grapes to the UK every year, principally accounted for by the Crimson, Thompson, Autumn Royal and Sugraone varieties.
“The UK is a major market for table grapes and where I believe there is still potential to continue increasing export volumes,” says del Río.
But whether this can be realised or not will depend, he argues, on Chilean exporters’ ability to offer a high quality product that meets the requirements of clients in the UK.
In common with Freshpak and David del Curto, Dole Chile’s managing director, Juan Pablo Vicuña, believes there is significant potential for further growth in the UK.
Where Dole Chile differs from the other companies is in the fact that its focus is largely on North America, with the UK to date playing a far lesser role, but Vicuña is confident this situation will change.
“The UK is not among our most important markets at the moment, but it is a market where we are going to grow in the future,” he predicts. “The UK is becoming a very important market for Chile in terms of new varieties, so I think it will receive a new surge of grape imports from Chile.”
Among the varieties that Vicuña views as having strong potential for the UK market are the black seedless Sable and red seedless Timco grapes.
Together with significantly increased production of these and other new varieties in neighbouring Peru, where Dole also has major interests, Vincuña believes new varieties have the potential to completely change the panorama of table grape exports.
“We are already seeing these changes in the US and I think they will also happen in Europe in the end – this is where the future lies,” he concludes.
Read the other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Chile: