by Valentina Bastias Atias
SANTIAGO, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Chile is taking berry production to the next level as a way to strengthen its key role in supplying China's coveted market.
Hortifrut, a leading berry producer and exporter in Chile, is investing in China, Mexico and Morocco. The company plans to grow berries there when Chile is in the off season when it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Among these countries, "China's domestic demand, in particular, grows much faster during this time of year (summer)," Hortifrut Vice President Nicolas Moller told Xinhua at a recent exhibit in Santiago.
"It's a country that opens up fantastic opportunities for the consumption of our products," said Moller.
Hortifrut plans to invest 160 million U.S. dollars to boost overseas sales of berries to a total of 120,000 tons between 2022 and 2023. In China, the company will invest 49 million dollars to plant 130 to 250 hectares of berries, aiming at a harvest by the first half of 2020.
The measure also allows for less shipping time and better quality, said Juan Ignacio Allende, the president of Hortifrut.
From picking to unloading at a port, it takes about 35 days for the imported berries to reach their destination markets, said Allende at the event's opening.
"That is too long, quality is affected. The market wants fruit of optimum, not regular quality," he said.
The company also decided to innovate and incorporate technologies to improve industrial processes, including packaging, logistics and preservation, said Moller.
Hortifrut first exported berries to Asia in 1987 and later set up a branch in Shanghai for localization. Since then, the Asian berry market has grown by 40 to 50 percent, with Hortifrut taking up to one third of the total, according to the company's data.
Chile exported about 386,000 tons of fresh fruits to China in 2017 and 2018, among which cherries scored 41.4 percent, while blueberries took up 2.5 percent, data from Chile's Fruit Exporters Association showed.