In a down economy, marketing efforts for Chilean produce are becoming more aggressive. Suppliers are pointing to educational programs, cross-promotions and on-the-ground staff to assist retailers.

“You have to start to offer a better value to the consumer,” said Brian Bocock, vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., who said a larger standard for blueberry packs is one way to demonstrate higher value. “The demand curve is changing pretty dramatically in the winter months.”

Robert Verloop, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Naturipe Farms LLC, said Chilean exporters are creating synergies with other fruits from Chile — including grapes and stone fruit — to improve consumer education about year-round fruits and vegetables.

Tom Tjerandsen, marketing manager for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., agreed, He said television has been an effective way of spreading the message that fresh fruit is available in stores.

“Still, there are a number of consumers that don’t understand how it can be summer in one place and winter in another,” he said.

Verloop mentioned how the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council is working on chef education programs, university cafeteria partnerships and short-term and long-term educational programs to bring greater awareness about winter crops to the U.S. media and consumers directly.

He also said the media, including monthly culinary magazines, are strong influencers that remind people that products like blueberries are available, and they can reinforce the message that blueberries are high in antioxidants.

Chris Kragie, sales manager at Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said it might take a couple of years to get the message across, but Western Fresh’s main goal is to achieve a year-round price and a year-round supply for major chain stores.

“Chile is on the opposite season for us, so it keeps us in a year-round program for all the items that we carry,” he said. “Large dealers don’t want to deal with one vendor now and another vendor tomorrow and another the next day.”

Kragie said a new office in Chile and presence at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit has helped the company to spur tremendous growth out of Chile. He identified club store clients, including Costco, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart.

New campaigns

Chilean suppliers are experimenting with new retailer promotional programs to expand wintertime consumption.

Maggie Bezart, marketing director at the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, Washington, D.C., said the association is running a national program tailored to specific retailers. One incentive gives cash prizes to produce managers who build the best large sports themed displays.

Kragie said Western Fresh is sending employees to help set up in-store programs, and is providing product for promotions.

“We make an allowance for so much product to be cut and consumers to try it,” he said of kiwis offered for in-store programs. “We also do promotional ads, have little brochures, and plastic knife/spoon combinations called ‘sloopers’ that we send to the chain stores, and they provide them next to kiwi to give away.”

Continuing the theme of close partnerships with retailers, the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association is offering tags to retailers in 42 television markets across the country to build promotional programs around the weeks when there is fresh fruit from Chile, said marketing manager Tom Tjerandsen.

Tjerandsen said there are substantial winter volume opportunities in foodservice, chain operations, distributors, colleges and universities. He said in-store radio and point-of-sale material also is being used.

“Our shipments to the U.S. last year were 9% ahead of the prior year,” he said. “We are setting new records. With the kind of economy we had, it is always a challenge, and we hope to exceed that again this year.”

Tjerandsen noted, however, that some factors that helped boost imports last year will not be replicated this year. This included a strong U.S. dollar and a new protocol that permitted the entrance of almost 20,000 tons of navel oranges.

“That’s all new volume that helped swell the total,” he said. “And the avocado industry, which came off a devastating freeze two years ago, again is experiencing substantial growth.”