Chile is currently the main exporter of fresh blueberries in the world, with a record export volume that exceeded 110 thousand tons in the 2017-2018 season. "Chile is the second biggest producer of blueberries in the world, after the United States. However it is the leading exporter of this fruit in the world. We mainly export our fruits to the markets of the northern hemisphere, which, until recently, we practically supplied alone. However, new competitors have emerged and are generating new challenges to that must be addressed, if we want to maintain our leadership position," said Andres Armstrong, the Executive Director of the Blueberry Committee of Chile - ASOEX.
Ronald Bown, the President of ASOEX, added: "Chile's blueberry industry has had a very interesting evolution, it is one of the four most important fruit species in the country in terms of return. However, it is necessary to continue improving, not only our search for new markets, but also to establish a greater presence, for example in Asia, especially in China. To do this, we must increase our quality. That's why we are inviting producers, exporters, and other agents linked to this industry to participate in the Blueberry in Debate, where we'll discuss what we must do to improve and face the this sector's new challenges."
Regarding the reality of blueberry in the regions chosen as the epicenter of the meetings, Armstrong said: "The La Araucania area to the south concentrates a third of the national blueberry plantations and is a very important region for the organic production, a niche where Chile can have greater advantages than other countries and could also mean higher income for producers."
The Maule Region, in turn, accounts for nearly 37% of the country's blueberry exports. During the 2017-2018 campaign, this zone exported 37,022 tons of fresh blueberries, 60% of which went to the United States; 23.7% to Europe; 13.1% to Asia; and 3.9% to Canada.
ASOEX, together with the Blueberry Committee and ProChile are inviting the people affiliated to the sector to participate in the ASOEX Regional Fruit Cycles: Blueberry in Debate, to address the challenges faced by the Chilean blueberry sector, and to discuss the strategy that the industry should follow. The event will take place on August 21 in Talca and on August 23 in Temuco.
The central axis of these events will be the quality, which will be addressed by Julia Pinto, who will talk about the evolution of the quality of the Chilean blueberry and its challenges; and Pilar Bañados, the Manager of Research and Development of Hortifrut, and an Academic of Physiology and Production of Berries of the PUC, who will analyze the technological evolution of the fruit.
Another important issue will be varietal change and the critical factors that influence it, which will be addressed in the presentation of Raul Dastres, the Director of Valle Maule. Meanwhile, Jorge Andres Varela, the Director of Agroberries, will discuss the world stage of the industry.
To contribute to the debate, John Gray, the Commercial Director of Angus Soft Fruits, an European importer of blueberries, and Jose Diaz, the Sourcing Manager of Walmart US, will participate in the event.
Finally, in order to stimulate the debate that the industry requires on key issues, there will be two discussion panels. These will be in charge of Isabel Quiroz, the Director of iQonsulting, and Felipe Juillerat, the president of the Blueberry Committee of Chile - Asoex and Commercial Manager of Hortifrut.
Why Blueberry in Debate? According to Armstrong, they decided on this name "to motivate people to participate, to make these Cycles more interactive, so that attendees can give their opinions and make questions, that is, have a debate and dialogue."
Greater competition: Change in quality and condition standards
Given the increased competition during Chile's export season, there has been a change in the fruit's quality and condition standards that Chilean producers and exporters must address.
Julia Pinto, the technical manager of the Blueberry Committee of Chile-ASOEX, said: "The quality issue is essential, when speaking about the future of blueberries. We need to focus on making our fruit succeed in the market, and we'll only achieve this when consumers choose our fruit, and that's a choice where the fruit's quality and condition prevails. Our product has been historically good. We have a superior organoleptic quality, a blueberry with a balanced flavor, and a good size. We have achieved good calibers and a fruit with a good skin, now we need to continue working the fruit's quality in terms of firmness, so we can compete better. Having more competition has caused a change in the quality standard, and we need to improve our quality to continue leading the blueberry export market."
"The committee's main objectives has always been quality, which has been greatly improved and has allowed us to grow and be able to reach very demanding markets, such as China. Now one of the challenges of the industry is to continue consolidating in China, which means, not only producing a fruit with the necessary quality, but also having a greater diversity of varieties," she said.