Expanding production in the Southern Hemisphere is giving US retailers even more options to meet their customers’ needs for fresh produce in the late fall and winter.

Last year was the first in which the United States received a significant increase in cherry imports from Chile, and it was backed by a strong investment in promotions, said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) and director of CAIA, San Carlos, Calif.

“The Chilean cherry industry has seen phenomenal growth over the past several years,” Brux said.

In the past decade, Chilean cherry volumes have jumped from 10 million boxes to 83 million boxes.

The Chilean Cherry Committee’s initial estimate for the coming season is 101 million boxes, which would be another increase of 22%.

Looking ahead, Brux said Chile could see 140 million boxes by the 2025/26 season.

US exports are also surging. Volumes increased from 1.4 million boxes in 2020/21 to 3.6 million in 2022/23.

China, the main market for Chile, takes 89% of the total crop.

CFFA will support retailers with a strong investment in marketing those greater volumes of Chilean cherries, Brux said.

Much of that marketing effort will focus on educating Americans about cherries from Chile. Many if not most consumers still associate cherries with a short summer window of domestic fruit from the Pacific Northwest and California.

“Winter cherries are still not a ‘must-have’ for some retailers, with many consumers unaware that fresh cherries are available during the winter months,” Brux said. “It’s important that we invest heavily in retail programs that will support retailers in their sales of Chilean cherries, both in-store and online.”

The association will also work hard to reach out to consumers directly, Brux said.

“We know that social media is an incredibly popular channel for reaching consumers with nutrition information, usage ideas, etc., so we will be utilizing our own social media channels and working with influencers to boost awareness.”

New for this season will be a monthly newsletter that CFFA will distribute to importers, retailers, and wholesalers. It will include important crop updates from Chile, as well as marketing updates from the US.

Latin America and beyond 

Vancouver, B.C.-based Oppy looks forward to a full import lineup of grapes, cherries, stone fruit, berries and other fruits from Latin America, Europe and South Africa this late fall and winter, said Eric Coty, the company’s vice president of South American operations.

“More now than ever we believe it’s crucial to offer a wide array of high-quality fruits and vegetables sourced from diverse growing regions. This approach serves dual purposes: it introduces exciting new items to the market and also helps bridge unexpected supply gaps due to factors like inclement weather, logistical challenges and other unforeseen circumstances.”

Oppy will import grapes of many varieties from Brazil, Peru, Chile, Spain and South Africa. They will be joined by cherries and stone fruit from Chile, Argentina and South Africa, all of which should be of excellent quality and in promotable volumes, particularly Chilean cherries, Coty said.

Conventional and organic blueberries from Peru, Chile, Mexico and Argentina will also be available, as will Peruvian avocados, organic ginger and pomegranates, and — as Oppy gears up for spring — gold kiwifruit from South Africa and green kiwifruit from Chile.

One newer import product Oppy is especially excited about this season are South African plums.

“Oppy was the first to load the fruit headed for North America in 2022 after an eight-year hiatus due to import regulations following pest detection,” Coty said. “This year we held a 25-30% share of what came into the market, and we look forward to a fresh season in January.”

Varieties shipping include Ruby Sun, Black Pearl, African Delight, Angeleno, Midnight Gold, Red Phoenix, Honey Punch, Flavor Fall, Fall Fiesta and September Yummy.

Another standout this winter could be dragon fruit, which Oppy will be bringing in from Peru and Ecuador, Coty said.

“We’ve seen exceptionally strong demand for dragon fruit, including white, pink and red-flesh varieties. Beyond their delightful taste, they’re renowned for their health benefits.”

Another exciting addition this year for Oppy, he said, is the D’Agen Prune, also known as the Sugar Plum. 

Popular in Asia, it has a sweet flavor profile and high fiber content. Oppy plans to bring it in on a test basis this season, with arrivals anticipated to follow cherries between February and March, and more promotable volumes to follow next season.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Produce Imports feature and more in the digital edition here.