Jon Clark - Fruit Growers Alianza

"It is not about competition, but increasing consumption together"

The fruit business is constantly changing as are exchange rates, politics, protocols and borders. Fruit Growers Alianza (FGA) is a company which has to deal with this kind of thing on a day to day basis. The company is owned by two leading Chilean growers, GESEX and San Clemente, and enables those farms to supply a variety of fruit to Europe and the UK for as much of the year as possible through various supply channels.

Jon Clark with Benjamin Fischer from Don Limon.

We caught up with new Managing Director Jon Clark at the Amsterdam Produce Show where he told us a bit about the business.

"GESEX produces grapes in Chile and they have just invested in a farm in Peru which together will give eight to nine months supply," explains Jon. "Stonefruit is their other big production, volumes are equivalent to the whole South African production, making them quite a sizeable producer, but it is not just about quantity, Gesex have also invested in varieties to give them quality throughout the season. In addition, citrus is becoming an new area of growth with soft citrus (Tango & Nadorcott producers), oranges and lemons. The US is an important market for GESEX as is Europe.

San Clemente who is the other partner of FGA are major apple producers of high quality fruit, and renowned for their late season Pink Lady, as well as being the sole producers of Jazz & Envy varieties in Chile. San Clemente are leading producers of cherries with established farms in the main and late regions with a real focus on producing premium quality fruit often marketed in the “dragon” brand. Production form the farms is completed with grapes, kiwis, citrus and pomegranate production.

"Cherries start the summer campaign from the Southern Hemisphere, the cost of air-freight is always a challenge which limits the volumes that can be sold however, ocean freight is packed as soon as the ideal varieties and volume become available. The ships will start arriving around Christmas week and stonefruit typically follows around a week or two after that. “As we get in to January the Chilean summer season really begins with a good availability of a basket of fruit. ," says Jon.

Cherries will continue on into March and stonefruit into April, with plums until the end of May.

"The dynamic in the grape market has changed in the last few years," according to Jon. "In the past Chile used to be the main supplier of white grapes to Europe when the South African season came to it’s end, but now India has taken over. India has seen a lot of advancements in varieties, quality and farm management. They also still have a very low cost base for production which makes it difficult to compete with”

There may be a gap for Chilean grapes in Europe this season due to rain in the early Nashik region in India, but whether Chile will have the fruit to fill the gap is another thing, explains Jon, as they already have markets for their grapes and won't want to stop supplying them for just one season.

Red grapes are different though, India doesn't have a big red production, whereas Chile has very good crimson and some new varieties, and is slightly later than South Africa. It is possible that South African production will drop off quickly as they reach the later regions which have been affected by the drought, "We don't like to see this for any producers," says Jon. "It is not about competition, but increasing consumption together. If there is a shortage of fruit then prices go up and consumption goes down. It is better to have a steady supply and fair prices”.

Too many challenges in sending to the UK?

Bringing fruit into the UK is not without its challenges, and Jon admits that Brexit is a major concern, currency and exchange rates are also a worry. "We worry if it will work for everybody in the supply chain going forward, but saying that in all my years in this industry there have always been challenges. Some of which seemed at the time impossible to overcome, but we did. There are probably just as many today, people just work them out and get on with it."

"I think everybody has questions sending to different markets at different times, sometimes it is down to price, sometimes about quality," said Jon. "Some can be quite demanding on quality while paying low prices, others can be challenging because of the low pesticide levels which are beyond the EU regulations, so you have to look at all markets and measure the positives and negatives. No matter which market you are in you have to deliver quality and a good service.

Jon goes on to say that the challenges that Chile faces are the same as those faced by South Africa or any other southern hemisphere country, so it is not just a challenge between countries. At some point a balance will come and it is usually between value and volume.

"Airfreight is never easy so we try to do as little as possible, for environmental reasons as much as anything else," explains Jon. "The cost is also very high, and there are a limited number of flights and space, cost is more influenced by demand rather than the fuel costs."

For more information:
Jon Clark
Fruit Growers Alianza Ltd
Tel: +44 (0) 1354 697584

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