National Editor Tom Karst chatted on March 2 with Manuel Alcaino, president of Decofruit SA, Santiago, Chile.
3:01 p.m. Tom Karst: What are some of the main features about this year’s Chilean export season?
3:01 p.m. Manuel Alcaino: I think the most interesting aspect is the fact that the Chilean exporters are looking for alternative markets to diversify their portfolio. That has had an impact in the volumes that have arrived to what has been traditionally the main market for Chilean exports, that is, the U.S.
The first sign of that was obviously the cherries. In a season that Chilean cherry exports grew 20% to the world, the arrivals to the U.S. decreased by about 25% compared to the year before. Most of the Chilean increase in volume has gone to China, with interesting results. This year was a complicated year.
3:05 p.m. Karst: Is the focus on other markets true for other commodities?
3:06 p.m. Alcaino: It is a similar situation we are seeing now with grapes. We are down around 6% in our grape arrivals in the U.S. through week eight or the end of February. If you compare Chile exports to the world, we are even compared with last year.
3:08 p.m. Karst: There is talk about Peru taking a higher profile in Southern Hemisphere grape exports. What is your take on that?
3:09 p.m. Alcaino: Certainly, Peru is becoming a actor. Still the volumes (from Peru are) in the area of 15% to 20% of what Chile has, but they come in a very special moment from mid-November through February. They are mostly out by now, but they hit that special moment when there are normally very good prices.
They have gained a reputation of good work. A lot of the technology that is being used, they are using the experience of Chilean technology people, of Chilean growers and all the suppliers of boxes and packaging material. So for them, the table was kind of set for them. The learning curve of the Peruvians has certainly been a lot shorter than that of the Chileans because of the experience that was already gained.
3:11 p.m. Karst: Will Peru continue to grow its exports?
3:11 p.m. Alcaino: They are going to continue to grow, absolutely. They are planting a lot. They have much cheaper labor than Chile. The land is cheap, the water is cheap, so it was like Chile in the early days.
The Chilean grape industry was founded on the basis of cheap and abundant labor, which is not true now. Labor is now scarce and expensive. Competition with Peru is tough.
The Peruvians have good conditions to grow grapes — not late but certainly early. My feeling is that the ones who are going to suffer are (growers in) Copiapo and the early valleys from the third and fourth regions in Chile. Those are the guys who will face the competition.