Chile has the biggest cherry industry in the southern hemisphere. In 2020 it had the hemisphere's biggest planted area (more than 56,000 hectares in production) and the biggest export volume. According to expectations, the number of planted hectares will continue to increase in 2021.
"We broke another record last year as we exported more than 70 million boxes of cherries, i.e. more than 350 million kilos, mainly to the Asian market," stated Carlos Tapia, Avium's technical director and a specialist in cherry production.
However, the recent season has been marked by three major complications: a lack of labor, delays in shipments, and rumors of the detection of COVID-19 in a box of Chilean cherries in China. These factors had negative consequences and, despite the record volume exported, there were clear economic effects.
“If we project what we expected to sell versus the historical or average prices, I believe we stopped perceiving about 700 million dollars; that is nearly 25 to 30% of the total income generated by the business,” stated Victor Maroto, Fruttita's commercial manager.
One of the strongest blows of the season was the rumor that COVID-19 had been detected in a box of Chilean cherries prior to the Chinese New Year when the national cherry is highly valued as a holiday gift. The Chinese government did not confirm or rule out this rumor, but Chile immediately prepared a powerful advertising and commercial campaign which cost them more than 1.5 million dollars.
“The campaign was aimed at regaining confidence in the product and increasing sales. We achieved it, as we were able to sell the volume that had been sent to this market, regardless of the results obtained. One of the most negative effects that this rumor generated was that consumers stopped giving cherries as gifts. The greatest achievement was to reassure consumers of the product's safety, lowering their negative perception from 80 to 20% via an emergency campaign that was developed in record time. The effects would have been worse if the Cherry Committee hadn't reacted as fast as it did,” stated Victor Maroto, the director of the Asoex Cherry and Marketing Committee.
Fortunately, the year 2020 also brought opportunities to the Chilean cherry industry. “This season we managed to export to Vietnam, a new market. In addition, the volume exported to Taiwan, Korea, India, Russia, the US, and the EU increased, which means we are diversifying the risks of exporting only to China,” Victor Maroto stressed.