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'Controlled atmosphere as an innovative solution for cherry shipments'

Maersk and the University of Chile, in partnership with exporter Geofrut, have published a study that promises significant implications for the export of Chilean cherries, particularly towards emerging markets like India, Europe and Southeast Asia.

The 2023-2024 cherry season has come to an end, and as reported by the Chilean Cherry Fruit Committee report, more than 400,000 tons of cherries were exported this year. This figure came as a surprise to exporters, considering the adverse weather conditions experienced in 2023, including warmer temperatures during winter and intense rains preceding the harvest. Despite these challenges, the industry managed to match last year's export figure, totaling 83 million boxes.

Challenges in expanding towards Asia
Cherries have become the 'pretty girl' of Chilean exports due to their high demand in Asian markets. Although Chile isn't a single-product country, the land dedicated to cherry is expanding rapidly. The challenge of maintaining and increasing cherry exports has led exporters to consider market diversification for this product.

Chile is focused on Asia due to the economic development in the region. Iván Marambio, president of Frutas Chile, conducted an analysis for El Mercurio's Revista del Campo, in which he mentions that "India is one of the most attractive economies, not only for having the fastest growth and because it is expected to become the world's third-largest economy by 2027, but also because it boasts over 1.4 billion consumers with increasing purchasing power"

However, the lack of volume of other cargoes for a direct trip to destinations like India presents a logistical challenge. Internal distribution in India and the lack of interest in investing in facilities by local companies also add complexity to the commercialization process.

As countries geographically closer to China increase their number of cherry exporters, a challenge arises for the Chilean market, since closer markets may be more attractive with lower transportation costs. Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Peru and South Africa are emerging in the cherry market, highlighting the importance of post-harvest operations and attention to quality in the supply chain.

With the purpose of boosting our customer's exports through new technologies, Maersk, in collaboration with the University of Chile, has invested in a detailed study to investigate the benefits of utilizing controlled atmosphere in the transportation of cherries. Through this study, our aim has been to explore avenues to enhance the technique and provide our clients with the opportunity to deliver cherries at the optimal time and in top-notch quality. This can enable us to expand the market horizons for Chilean cherries, which currently rely heavily on a major buyer for an annual event – China and its New Year celebrations.

Controlled atmosphere as the key to cherry export success
Controlled atmosphere technology has emerged as a game-changer in agriculture, revolutionizing the storage and transportation of perishable products. This innovative method entails precise regulation of factors such as oxygen concentration, carbon dioxide levels, nitrogen, temperature and humidity in warehouses, aimed at extending shelf life and preserving product quality.

Study insights:
Conducted under the active supervision of the Post-Harvest Studies Center at the University of Chile, and coordinated by Daniel Guerrero, Cold Chain Specialist at Maersk, the study delves into the application of controlled atmosphere for cherry shipments. Its objective is to evaluate the technology's impact on extending maritime container transit times without compromising fruit quality.

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