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IPA World Congress

Chile: Quality and consistency are key for dried plums

The International Prune Conference, which is organized by the International Prune Association (IPA) in partnership with Chile Prunes, began yesterday. The start of the event, which will be hosted by Chile for the second time and brings together the world's top producers and exporters, was attended by nearly 300 Chilean and international attendees from the US, Argentina, France, Italy, Australia and South Africa.

At its launch, the Minister of Agriculture, Carlos Furche spoke about the most important challenges faced by this industry. He said they should continue working on health issues, as it was the passport to enter international markets. He also said that they required permanent technological innovation along the entire chain, from managing the orchards, to labeling the products; as they could not be competitive without technological innovation.

Minister Furche said they also needed to expand markets and that, in that sense, it appeared that China, which is currently the second biggest destination for Chile and has a 17% annual export growth rate, was going to become its main market destination.
In turn, the newly appointed director of ProChile, Alejandro Buvinic, highlighted the 12% annual growth experienced by the sector in the last four years. In 2016, the sector will achieve exports of 200 million dollars. Additionally, he said, the sector has important growth potential in China, the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Meanwhile, the president of IPA, Hector Claro, highlighted the fact that Chile has been the main exporter of prunes since 2013, as offering a high quality and good tasting product required a lot of work and effort. A decline in these factors "has a cost for the entire industry, especially in regard to supermarket shelf positioning. A new fruit may appear at any moment that would monopolize that space," he said.

According to Pedro Pablo Diaz, president of Chile Prunes, one of the biggest global challenges for the industry "is to have a dehydrated plum that has the best taste and quality, primarily in large sizes and with a good sugar content. We need all chain actors - producers, processors, exporters, importers and retailers - to take on the challenge of producing a great product for consumers by managing the fields, marketing, and promoting their products in the best way possible." 

"To achieve quality we must make sure the orchards are pruned correctly and we still have much to learn about the thinning of the plants to achieve better calibers. That's the key to our growth," he added.

Donn Zea, executive director of the California Dried Plum Board, said the industry had reasons to be optimistic; among other things because of the growing importance that healthy products have worldwide and because people are starting to replace their lunch and dinner with snacks. In that sense, prunes have won a space.

Pedro Torrijos, Latin America's director of Importaco, said the companies should be leaders in quality, "that is the only path to leadership. We must tear down the paradigm where quality and food safety are associated with a high cost. In that sense, I invite you all to review your processes and to remember that consumers expect their plums to be consistent, large and of similar calibers, color, texture, and with no pits."

In 2008, he said, 1% of the products sold by Importaco had remains of pits, but the company eventually decreased this number to less than 0.05%. "Now, by working closely with our suppliers, we have achieved a 0% complaints regarding pit remains in our plums in recent months. We sell 55% of the dried plums in Spain, and our product is of Chilean origin," he added.
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