"It's crazy," stated Hernan Garces, the world's largest exporter of cherries. "I've been going through the markets in Shanghai and it's amazing to see how the Chinese buy the cherries," added the 53-year-old Chilean businessman.
Garces traveled to China in time for the moment when this fruit's sales peak, just before the celebration of the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese New Year is the reason why customers are currently desperate to buy 5-kilo boxes of cherries, which the businessman sells at about US $ 45 dollars.
"The Chinese buy cherries because it is an aspirational product," he said, especially for the emerging middle class that considers the fruit is a status symbol. Since there are around 350 million people in China's middle class, which is in the process of expansion, the demand for cherries continues to grow.
"The more we export, the more demand increases," said the president of Garces Fruit, a company that currently sells 25,000 tons of cherries a year and plans to double its growth in China over the next five years.
But what's so special about cherries?
An elegant novelty
Chinese consumers give cherries to their friends as a token of affection. Their red color makes them very appreciated and their scarcity, gives them a touch of exclusivity.
"They mean a lot to the Chinese culture," said Garces, who has been in the cherry export business for 20 years and is recognized in Chile as one of the pioneers who opened the way to entering the Asian market.
Garces' father planted the first eight hectares of cherries in 1978 and almost two decades later, Hernan and his brother Pablo took the reins of the company.
At that time they wondered if their cherries could arrive in good condition to Asia and decided to send a first container to Taiwan.
They had the idea when they discovered that there were modified atmosphere bags that could keep the fruit in good conditions for a longer time. "Why don't we try it to see if it works?" the entrepreneur stated. And it did.
"At the beginning it was difficult because the boats took a month to arrive", but with the passage of time, they negotiated to reduce the travel time.
In addition, the Chinese did not know cherries, which was another risk they took. However, customers were quickly seduced and demand skyrocketed.
The road opened even more, after China allowed the direct entry of the fruit to its ports in 2007.
"The Cherry boom"
"The Chilean cherry has boomed in China for nearly 4 years," said Ignacio Caballero, the Marketing Assistant Manager of the Fruit Exporters Association of Chile (Asoex).
The market was opened by some pioneers such as Garces, but the definitive jump took place recently.
"Nobody used to dare to export to China," he said. Fortunately, entrepreneurs became confident and launched into the adventure of conquering the Asian market.
According to information from Asoex, Chile exported US $ 1.060 billion in the 2017 and 2018 season, which lasts about 18 weeks for cherries.
"It is a very scarce product because it is the fruit with the shortest harvest period," he said.
Chile is the main exporter of cherries in the world, followed by the United States, Turkey, Spain, Austria, Greece, Canada, Serbia, Poland, and Australia.
Producing cherries isn't easy. "You have to harvest carefully, cool it fast, process it in 24 hours, dispatch it in two days and put it on a ship that takes another 22 days to get to Hong Kong." Ideally, he says, they shouldn't be more than 28 days old when they arrive.
"It fascinates me to come to China and see how people buy cherries from an application on their phone and how they arrive at their house in 20 minutes," Garces stated.
"Producing and exporting cherries was always a dream, a challenge. Cherries are wonderful," he added.
Source: BBC World