EU4Business finances business trips abroad

Chile is the world’s leading producer and exporter of blueberries. Ukrainian entrepreneurs, who are now confidently regaining their place in the EU market, visited Chile to adopt the best practices of a successful country.

In recent years, the blueberry sector shows the highest growth rates among the whole fruit and vegetable segment of Ukraine. In 2018 alone, according to experts, at least 700 hectares of new blueberry plantations were laid. The total area under the berry grew immediately by 44% in one year (total area is not less than 2.1 thousand hectares). That is, this young industry has been growing rapidly in recent years.

“Ukraine can definitely take its place on the world market,” – Ivan Hrechkovskyi, Director of Family Garden, which grows blueberries and raspberries on 150 hectares in Kyiv Oblast, says.

But the entrepreneur adds that Ukrainian producers have very strong competitors.

The world leaders in blueberry production are the United States and Chile. Also among the top producers and exporters are Canada, Peru, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and France.

According to Ivan Hrechkovskyi, the direct competitors of Ukraine are European countries, such as Poland. In particular, because we have the same berry picking season. And the main export market is the same: both Poland and Ukraine sell blueberries mainly to European countries.

But Ukraine does not compete with Chile and other countries of South and Central America.

The fact is that in Ukraine the picking season lasts from June to September, and in Chile, depending on the part of the country, from October to April.

Chile, by the way, supplies blueberries to other countries for amount about $ 500 million. The country’s leading position as a global exporter is primarily associated with the supply of fresh blueberries: Chile exports more than 100,000 tons of blueberries annually. The export of frozen berries is lower – about 30,000 tons.

“Berry Growing of Ukraine” Association, within the framework of the project “Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade – an EU4Business initiative” (implemented by the International Trade Centre and funded by the EU), has organized a trip to Chile for Ukrainian berry exporters, so that companies could adopt the best practices of a more successful country.

Ukrainian entrepreneurs at the blueberry production site in Chile

“The goal of the trip to Chile is to strengthen the competitiveness of Ukrainian companies specializing in growing and exporting berries,” Ferederin Derlault, food and vegetables expert at ITC, explained. During the one-week visit to Chile, Ukrainian entrepreneurs visited more than 10 farms and enterprises specializing in blueberries and sweet cherries.

To learn more about business opportunities, follow the “Map of Opportunities for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses”, which contains all the programmes available to entrepreneurs that are supported by the EU.


The secret of success is technology and discipline

“The Ukrainian market, especially fresh blueberry market, is very young and not yet formed compared to the Chilean market,” Iryna Kukhtina, President of the “Berry Growing of Ukraine” Association, says. — Therefore, it was interesting to see how they work. About 12% of fresh blueberries are exported to Asian countries, particularly to China, where the highest price is. Delivery by sea takes 45 days. First of all, it was interesting for us to learn how the Chileans achieved such a result, using what technology they managed to “stretch” the shelf life of fresh blueberries to 90 days.

It turned out that there is no rocket science. The success of Chileans in the global blueberry market is not associated with any special varieties of berries. It’s all about discipline and strict temperature control.

Ukrainian entrepreneurs at the blueberry production site in Chile

“In Chile, they stick to the cold supply chain,” Ivan Hrechkovskyi says. — Before traveling to Chile, I did not understand how they were transporting the berries to Chile for more than 40 days, only after that they pack them, deliver to stores and sell. After what we have seen and heard, we, in our company, will consider the possibility of exporting to more distant countries, for example, Asian countries and the United Arab Emirates.”

It is cooling technology that allows Chileans to deliver blueberries not only to the United States, but also to Europe and even China. And China is the most profitable buyer for Chileans, where the berries are sold at a price of $5 per kilogram. Whereas in Europe and the United States the price is lower – $3.5 and $2.7, respectively.

What the technology is this? In Chile, the harvested berries are on the field for no more than two hours. “At large enterprises there is a hydro-cooler right in the fields. And in the truck that delivers berries there is a refrigerator to cool them on the way from the field to the sorting line, – Iryna Kukhtina says. — In addition, Chileans strictly observe three-stage cooling.”

It is three-stage cooling, which, according to her, preserves the quality of the berries. In such a way the blueberries receive less stress and may lie longer on the shelf in the supermarket.

Ukrainian entrepreneurs at the blueberry production site in Chile

“One extra hour on the field without refrigeration is minus one day that the berry can be on the store shelf,” Iryna Kukhtina explains. And she adds that this is exactly what the Ukrainian businessmen should learn from Chileans.

What do Chilean berry growers do? Berry temperature in the field is +20 to +25 degrees. At the first stage, blueberries are cooled to +6 to +8 degrees, sometimes they do it right in the truck on the way to sorting. After that, blueberries are cooled to +2 to +4 degrees, and then the temperature is brought to 0.

“In Ukraine, few entrepreneurs use the three-stage cooling method. Usually, the temperature is immediately reduced to +2 to +4 degrees. Moreover, many of them do not maintain a temperature of 0 degrees. Therefore, the quality of the berries is lower,” Iryna Kukhtina says.


Infrastructure is important for the berries market

In Chile, unlike in Ukraine, infrastructure has already been built for markets for both fresh and frozen blueberries, entrepreneurs say. There is a sufficient number of refrigerators, sorting lines, freezing and packaging capacities.

And in Ukraine, according to the President of the “Berry Growing of Ukraine” Association, the industry was born, but there is no infrastructure (this applies primarily to fresh blueberry market). “This is a matter of principle for us now,” Iryna Kukhtina says.

According to her, there is not a single packaging line in Ukraine. Therefore, the fundamental question for the market now is who should build the necessary infrastructure.

And the key problem is that the volume of blueberry growing in Ukraine is not enough to fully load the production facilities.

That is why there are no investors who would be willing to invest in an expensive infrastructure. As a possible way out of the situation, Kukhtina proposes to establish cooperatives and jointly invest in the construction of facilities.


Useful nuances of Chilean technology

“Of the useful things that we will introduce in our production is that we will add a liquid extract produced by Californian worms to the fertilizer system,” Nataliia Melenevska, Director of Melen specializing in growing blueberries, raspberries and strawberries in Zhytomyr Oblast, says. — We will try this on our test hectare. How do Chileans do? They take 600 kg of compost per 1 sq. m, introduce 3 kg of worms and water daily with 40 liters of water per 1 sq. m in the compost pit.  Then, the extract (water) flows through the drainage channels and this extract is inserted at a rate of 40 liters per hectare every day during the year. One cycle of using worms takes 4 months.  By cost, it is simple, but no one has canceled microorganisms.”

Chileans are attentive to the leaf diagnosis of bushes and soil. “Chilean entrepreneurs do leaf diagnosis of bushes every two weeks. Accordingly, the correction of mineral nutrition occurs every two weeks. And soil diagnosis is done at different depths – 20, 40 and 60 cm. Technology at the highest level. That’s why, the yield in Chile is 18 tons of berries per hectare, whereas in Poland it is only 10 tons,” Nataliia says.

Ukrainian entrepreneurs at the blueberry production site in Chile

“In Chile, I liked the picking of blueberries with a combine harvester: I have not seen this either in Ukraine or in Europe. And at their production sites, there are separate lines adjusted for the countries to which products will be exported. Producers are obliged to ensure the quality that each country requires, Ivan Hrechkovskyi adds. — It’s great that the project “Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade”, in the framework of which we were able to visit Chile, is focused on those things that had not been done in Ukraine before. It is very important that small and medium-sized businesses can come to Chile or to another country and look at the best practices to which we are only growing in Ukraine.”


By Iryna Gudz

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