(Oct. 3, 11:51 a.m.) SANTIAGO, Chile — As a consequence of the U.S. financial crisis, Chilean exporters said a projected drop in restaurant sales could mean more at-home consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

That was the consensus at Fruittrade 2008, a conference that brought international importers to meet Chilean growers Sept. 29-30. Nearly 60 importers from 28 countries and about 130 Chilean producers/exporters participated in sixth annual event.

Shaken by troubles on Wall Street, Chilean fruit exporters and industry leaders are still confident that despite the financial crisis in the U.S. American consumers will begin to eat more fruits at home.

“People are going to stop going to restaurants and will eat more at home. Therefore, fruit will be consumed more at home, not only because it is easy to buy, but because it is healthier,” said Rodrigo Echeverria, president of Fedefruta, the national federation of Chilean fruit growers which sponsors the event.

One of Chile’s largest fruit exporters, Unifrutti Traders Ltd., echoed those sentiments.

“The produce business will not be affected that badly, and the reason for that is that people in America will stay at home and won’t be eating so much in restaurants, and people eat fruits at home, not in restaurants,” said Arturo Costabal, Unifrutti’s marketing director.

“Americans are used to eating elaborate desserts, and there isn’t much elaboration when it comes to eating fruit,” Costabal said.

The increase in production costs was another heated topic during the conference’s opening ceremony. Echeverria said that the increase in production costs, especially in fertilizers, has increased a whopping 230% in the last year.

“Energy costs are so high these days in Chile, especially in irrigation, electricity, and the cost of fertilizers,” Costabal said. “Fertilizers have doubled in cost in one year. They follow the oil trend, so they will stay high. They will not go down,” he said.

During the opening ceremony, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet congratulated the country’s fruit growers and said, thanks to their constant hard work, Chile can see a promising future and become one of the world’s leading produce exporting countries.

For importers, Fruittrade 2008 offered them the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the country’s top exporters.

Daniel Dal Bó, commercial agent based in Argentina for London-based DPS Direct Produce Supplies PLC, a company that supplies Tesco supermarkets, came to Fruittrade to import about 750,000 cases of stone fruit.

“This roundtable is very useful for us, we can meet the exporters and talk about the fruit variety instead of using the phone or e-mail,” Dal Bó said.

Roberto Van de Wyngard, procurement and inspection officer for Bellevue, Wash.-based ROC International LLC, an American fruit exporter for China and Taiwan, said every year Fruittrade gets more interesting and the organization at the event is improving.

“We like to gather and do business in these roundtables,” Van de Wyngard said.

The company expects to buy more than 800,000 cases of Chilean cherries, red globe grapes, stone fruit, gala and fuji apples this season.

Chilean exporters expect bounce from U.S. downturn
The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet (right), and Rodrigo Echeverria, president of Fedefruta, the national federation of Chilean fruit growers, during the opening ceremony of Fruittrade 2008. Bachelet says that despite the world financial crisis, Chile is ready to embrace these challenges thanks to the country’s solid economic foundations.

Courtesy Fedefruta