Jesús de la Riva, president of Ciruelas Chile A.G: Both guilds share the concern for sustainability, which should be a work philosophy and also a differentiation when it comes to a commodity product, says the executive.
Cooperation. A collaborative work whose goal is a quality and sustainable product. Address common markets with joint marketing. These are concepts that are repeated in an interview with Jesús de la Riva, president of Ciruelas Chile A.G (European plum producers), a trade union that seeks greater synergy of actions, strategies and market attacks with Chileprunes, a trade association that brings together 70% of exports of Chilean prunes.
“Both guilds have many things in common. From the start, we think about and work with prunes in a sustainable way, which should be a work philosophy and also a differentiation when it comes to an almost commodity product,” adds the executive.
“We must continue with the concept of Chile-country-responsible that cares about safety and sustainability, about ESG standards, and that includes not only processing plants but also agricultural production systems; there, both guilds are aligned in producing a sustainable product, being, for example, rigorous with water resources, energy efficiency and working in the orchards with the communities”.
Chile had a total prunes production of 90,000 Metric Tons (MT) at the end of the 2022 harvest. Of that amount, 71,000 MT were available for dehydration (79%), and the remaining 19,000 MT were used for fresh fruit. In both cases, around 95% is exported.
Ciruelas Chile A.G has 100 member companies that own about 2,000 hectares, and where around 90% are growers and the rest, growers, processors and exporters from the VI Region of O’Higgins, the main producing area of Chile. They represent 30% of the companies in the sector in the region and the invitation is to add more producers who want to work for a more robust Chile Brand, offering a quality product.
Jesús de la Riva comments that a few years ago, fresco, as a business, hardly existed. Now it is relevant, but it suffers from many ups and downs: “We had a US$2 return to the producer for a kilo of fresh plums exported; then, from one year to the next, it’s at US$0.4 and then it’s back to US$2,” he says.
The fresh went almost 100% to China, more than two thousand containers. A good figure, but with the risk of having everything destined for a single country that, along the way, places Covid Zero health policies that slow down the entire chain. This is how a fruit that should be available to the consumer in 3-4 weeks arrives in 6, losing quality. “We are very focused on China, it is good to address a series of initiatives to open spaces and markets, take advantage of the fact that dried plums reach nearly 80 different countries,” he says.
The fluctuations in the price and the concentration in a single country are of high risk, but when you have US$ 2 per kilo it is good. Also the fresco has fast payment, which helps cash flow.
In addition, despite the new healthy and wellness trends, the consumption of dried plums remains stable over time, there have been years in which supply exceeds demand, “this has been a topic in the IPA, a concern for Californians, for price pressure, something that has hit producers many times”.
All of the above, he invites us to think of a mix, where the fresco emerges “as a channel that decompresses and offers opportunities to producers. It is true that this requires plums with a minimum diameter of 33 mm, which means that many times we fall short in large sizes for dehydration. This is when we must apply market intelligence so that there is a competitive balance and that gives us visibility of the business in the long term, and where maintaining quality is part of our hallmark”.
The president of Ciruelas Chile points out that our country has done a good job with plums: 15 years ago it was considered second-class fruit, cheaper, due to its less homogeneous quality. Over time and the excellent public and private work carried out, which allowed for better sizes and volumes, “we have become undisputed leaders with a good brand position in all markets. In addition, we are well aligned with the Prunes from Chile brand”.