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Chile: The challenges of peaches and nectarines

Chile has 14,000 hectares devoted to the production of peaches and nectarines, which generate an annual income of US $160 million for the country. The country exports these fruits from December to March, mainly to the US market, where Chile virtually has no competition. Despite this, the business has been fluctuating over time with an adjustment in volume and a change of the varieties supplied. As a result, it has had some difficult years regarding prices and demand.

The production's dependence on a single market generates an excess of supply, which leads to a significant drop in prices during certain specific weeks that can hardly be managed by stocking the fruit in the country or speculation in the markets.

This happens every year and it is more critical in the seasons in which production is high and supply is concentrated. This reality is not unique to these species and it is common in those of restricted storage capacity, which can be contradictory, as this characteristic in turn allows the conducting business in the counter season.

So what can stone fruit companies do to stop this dependence? How can they take advantage of being a unique provider in this market? The most obvious strategy is to divert part of their production in the weeks of excess supply to other markets (Asia, Europe); However, the restriction in storage time, due to the development of physiological disorders, prevents them from carrying out this solution in the short term with the available cultivars. The other alternative is to increase the product's demand and, contrary to what is generally done, get rid of the stock with special offers, differentiating the product through high quality that will stimulate consumption and that can compete with other alternatives in the market.

This can be hard due to low-temperature weather conditions and snowstorm events. However, fruit competition is scarce and limited to quite different products, such as apples and kiwis, where consumers seek new flavor alternatives. Thus, the product's presentation, packaging, and differentiation by means of a brand, can create opportunities to achieve a different outcome.

The prototype product that the consumer is looking for is important. Consumers are looking for a juicy product that has a good sugar / acidity balance (greater than 20), that has an attractive or even different coloring, a captivating suggestive and different flavor, so it is important to understand that the post-harvest handling of the fruit affects how these properties are achieved in the product. Prolonged time at 0º C destroys the product as it is unable to mature. In addition, the fruit is harvested before it achieves its ripeness for consumption and must be prepared to achieve the organoleptic properties.

To develop this strategy in the short term, it is necessary to know the available cultivars very well regarding the aforementioned aspects, especially regarding the time when these disorders are induced and the fruit's flavor potential. Many of the current varieties do not have the required potential, and others that have it often don't show their qualities because it takes them a long time to reach the appropriate ripeness for consumption.

In this sense, the pre-defined direct sales programs with supermarkets are fundamental. Having feedback of the consumption experience is necessary so that the industry can make the proper and necessary adjustments; especially in an industry where the satisfaction of the senses is key to sales.

In the long term, the industry should conduct genetic development as a tool that delivers value, where they can create a prototype of the product throughout the sales period, in a consistent and captivating manner. The genetic base must be complemented with physiological knowledge to prepare the product through a post-harvest management protocol that prevents spoilage and promotes organoleptic properties. Cold storage management should prevent the product from damaging and storage times should be limited to protect the product from inappropriate speculation. Quality and consumer satisfaction should be the priority.

The long-term business depends on companies that take the leadership in the implementing these points and having a differentiated product to increase prices. If prices aren't good there is no incentive to persist in differentiating the product, investing in new genetics, and introducing technology for the production of quality fruit with high yields.


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