Sustainability and innovation are key to the packaging of Chilean fruit

Chilean fruits have faced significant challenges in the last 10 years. From the FTA with China in 2007 to the crisis in Brazil in 2015 and the Paris Agreements in 2016, for better or for worse, the changes have been important for Chilean exports, as the axis has moved towards Asia, mainly China.

This is one of the conclusions of the seminar organized by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in conjunction with Cenem, which analyzed the fruit season and discussed future projections, highlighting the relevance of the sustainability in packaging, in which Chile is quite advanced at the Latin American level, said its representative in Chile, Andres Rodriguez.

Isabel Quiroz, the Executive Director of IQonsulting, stated that the Chilean industry was tremendously resilient and that it had managed to adapt to the series of changes in the last 10 years. She highlighted the work that has been done in Chile with table grapes, apples, cherries, and nuts, where, nowadays, it is necessary to talk about two types of packaging: one for mass transport and another that goes directly to the final consumer.

"We must be able to create smart packaging that can communicate with consumers, and that can react to changes in the environment, for example the temperature that is generated inside them," she added.

Quiroz said that table grapes had little room to grow in quantity, given that there are new producers such as Peru, South Africa, China and even India. She also said that, nowadays, quality was of paramount importance and that the new varieties, such as the Seedless varieties, played a preeminent role. In addition, they had to bet on quality markets, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and China, as well as on innovation in consumer packaging.

The scenario for apples is similar to that of the table grape, she added. There are varieties that are becoming obsolete and the sector should bet, for example, on the Granny Smith, as it has a strong demand among Asian millennials. In the United States, consumers are looking for an apple variety that manages to maintain its crunchiness after two weeks - which produces the sensation of freshness- independent of its sweetness.

Mariana Soto, the general manager of Cenem, an organization that brings together packaging suppliers, said that the world was currently interested in having quality packaged foods, which are packaged in attractive ecologically friendly designs made with sustainable, functional, and smart materials that can be recyclable. Chile is starting to understand the relevance of packaging as something vital to any economic activity. It is one of the three strategic axes of any economic activity, together with ingredients and processes.

Javier Mozo, the commercial director of MM Packaging, said that there is an alliance between the packaging industry and fruit exporters, and that working to have the packages required by the fruit's seasonality was key. "The Super-eight are produced 52 weeks a year and the cherries are produced in 4 to 6 weeks a year, so we must be on the lookout so that their packaging is ready on time."

"Understanding the vision of large importers from the United States and China was essential to analyze world demand, as they currently are the two main destinations for Chilean fruit," added Andres Rodriguez.

Fernando Soberanes, from Giumarra (United States), said that the most valued factors by consumer in the United States were quality and price. To respond to this, he added, they had to observe the main tendencies in that market, i.e. market innovations (online sales, technology, delivery services, among others). They also have to continue developing new varieties, which has an impact on reducing costs, as there is a lower consumption of water, products and field applications, as well as an improvement in yields and a reduction in the use of labor.

In addition, they need to deepen organic certification and fair trade to capture a mass of consumers that is increasingly more concerned about sustainability and, in this sense, reduce the use of plastics in packaging and use recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable packaging. He also highlighted the need to generate marketing practices that involved consumers. "In United States, people like to know who is behind the fruit, the story of the producer, and that they give them recipes and ideas for use."

JP Zhang, of the Eachtake Group (China), said that even though the Chinese market had opened up to e-commerce in recent years, it remained dominated by traditional distribution channels. "The market is expanding to medium-sized cities thanks to the economic growth they are experiencing. However, its necessary to study the market well to avoid the risk of approaching small buyers who may eventually present payment problems."

In this context, he recommended exploring these new destinations, taking the production in large packages, of 2 and a half kilos or more, but with a significant percentage of prime fruit. He also said it was important to maintain a permanent communication with retailers, because it would allow them to obtain valuable information to choose the best packaging format and associated costs. "Eachtake Group always has a good communication with retailers to transfer the needs of our customers to the producers."

PMA brings together the entire horticultural business chain, "including exporters, importers, and suppliers of services and supplies, as is the case of packaging, which allows us to generate synergies, be at the forefront of the business, and better face global changes," stated Andres Rodriguez.

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