Japan: Chile positions itself as the second provider of fresh cherries

Japan: Chile positions itself as the second provider of fresh cherries

Smartcherry spoke with Nury Disegni, Commercial and Agricultural Director of ProChile in Tokyo, who confirmed that the Chilean fruit industry stands out in Japan for its color, firmness, and flavor. The main products exported from Chile to Japan are fresh grapes and, of course, fresh cherries, where the South American country is the second-largest supplier, surpassed only by the United States.

Disegni emphasizes that Japan is currently the world’s third-largest economy and, at the same time, the third destination for non-copper Chilean exports, reflecting the good work done with this market. “To continue on that path, we consider it important to continue promoting our quality and safety standards to maintain it as a strategic ally that contributes to the development of both countries,” she said.

What are your main objectives and priorities upon taking office?

Japan is a constantly changing market that values innovation, sets trends worldwide, and is always looking for new challenges. We must be attentive and responsive to be able to harmonize our long diplomatic and economic tradition of over 125 years with the cutting-edge and current aspects that require our ties to be strong and lasting.

Our challenge is to continue building customer loyalty in this market by constantly educating importers about the quality, safety, and traceability attributes of our products, highlighting their functionality, which adds significant value to our agricultural products.

In addition to strengthening existing ties, we must create new business opportunities to continue growing. To that end, we are negotiating new sanitary openings and exploring development options for products that have benefited from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in terms of tariff preferences.

What specific initiatives are being considered to promote Chilean products and services in the Japanese market?

Among the initiatives we are working on to promote our products in Japan, we strongly emphasize the quality, safety, and traceability attributes, highlighting their functionality. This will allow us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Our strategy aims to emphasize sustainable processes in the production of goods and services, highlighting niche products and those classified as premium. This allows us to expand our export offering and improve our market positioning.

We also want to work on promotion activities targeted at end consumers at points of sale where we can highlight the added value of our products. Additionally, our presence on social media is important, as these platforms are widely used in Japan and require our attention.

What potential does the fruit industry have for further growth in Japan? How much fruit does Chile export to Japan, and what are the projections?

Chile is recognized for the quality of its exports, particularly the fruit that reaches its target markets, as is the case in Japan, where the Chilean fruit industry stands out for its color, firmness, and flavor.

In 2022, we ranked seventh in the ranking of fresh fruit suppliers to Japan in terms of value and volume, totaling US$47 million, representing a 1.2% increase compared to the previous year (Quantity & Value: Annual through 2022). The main products exported from Chile to Japan are fresh grapes, fresh cherries (where we are the second-largest supplier, surpassed only by the United States), and fresh citrus.

We believe that there is still room for growth as long as we continue to promote the value attributes of our products to differentiate ourselves from the competition in the market. We must consider that Japanese consumers are very sensitive and value these attributes, so it is important to emphasize the quality and safety of our products, among other important attributes.

Are Japanese companies interested in providing services, such as technology, to Chilean fruit exporters?

Certainly, there are companies interested in providing services, and there is also an interest on our part in working collaboratively to acquire new knowledge that can be applied in Chile. We have identified collaboration opportunities in logistics systems, which are essential for ensuring that our products reach the market quickly and safely, along with port and warehouse services, among many others. These types of services help shorten shipping times while ensuring the safe delivery of products to all cities and towns in Japan, while preserving their quality, freshness, and traceability attributes. We must not forget that the Japanese often consume these products raw, which drives us to streamline processes, stay well connected, and provide security to importers and consumers.

Can we say that cherries are one of the sectors with the greatest growth potential? Could you comment on whether you have seen an evolution in the cherry market since your previous time in Japan until now?

In 2022, we positioned ourselves as the second-largest cherry supplier in this market, just after the United States, with a growth of 28% compared to 2021.

With this data, I can indeed see an evolution since the last time I was here in 2018. In my opinion, it is not only because there is interest from Japanese importers in Chilean cherries but also because Chilean exporters are interested in coming here to offer their products, seeing the windows of opportunity during the Christmas and Valentine’s Day holidays.

Currently, we have a relatively small market share, but it is growing. Additionally, it should be noted that since 2014, the sanitary protocol facilitating the entry of cherries from Chile into Japan (System Approach) has been in effect, and exporters have had to adjust to Japan’s labeling and packaging requirements for the entry of fresh cherries from Chile.

Can we expect a similar proportional growth in Chilean cherry exports as seen in China?

From my point of view, cherries have the opportunity to grow in Japan because importers, distributors, and retailers recognize the quality of Chilean cherries, appreciating their color and size attributes and standing out against competitors such as New Zealand and Australia. Moreover, Chilean cherries enter the Japanese market at times when there is no other cherry supply. However, to achieve greater growth, we must increase promotion that highlights the quality attributes to importers and end consumers.

Just like in China, does cherry have value and prestige in Japan to be given as gifts during certain celebrations?

Indeed, Chilean cherries enter the Japanese market from late November and depending on the variety, they can be available until February. During this period, two important days are celebrated in Japan: Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Christmas is not celebrated in Japan as we do in the West; instead, it is a time for giving gifts to friends and family. In Japan, as well as in other Asian cultures, it is customary to give high-quality fruits in luxurious packaging as gifts. Due to their red color, cherries are a good gift option.

What are the challenges you foresee in promoting Chilean cherry exports in Japan? What should exporters pay attention to?

We have identified two significant challenges. The first one is promotion because the main cherry supplier to Japan is the United States, often marketing the product as “American Cherry.” Therefore, we believe our efforts should focus on emphasizing the origin seal so that the end consumer can differentiate us and prefer our products.

The second challenge, which we actively support, is ensuring that exporters meet the entry requirements for Japan. So far, we have detected failures at the time of entry, particularly regarding the labeling of the boxes that come to Japan.

Based on your experience in the country, what would you say to companies interested in entering the Japanese market regarding cultural and trade barriers?

I consider it crucial to learn from this market in order to invest in it, and in that regard, entrepreneurs have the full support of the ProChile Commercial Office here in Tokyo. There are certain factors to consider, such as the way of doing business, the commitment that must be adopted, and the preliminary work that needs to be done.

In this context, one factor I would highlight is that the Japanese consumer is very sophisticated, follows fashion trends, and seeks healthy foods that improve their well-being. They are interested in knowing the origin of fruits, are attracted to new varieties, the production process, and even knowing who is involved in production.

Furthermore, doing business in Japan takes time. You must work on building trust with counterparts by demonstrating expertise and the quality of your products, including their labeling. With that, many possibilities open up to establish a long-term business relationship.

Considering your previous experience as Agricultural Representative in Japan, what does it mean to you to have returned, assuming the position of Commercial Director of ProChile in the country?

First and foremost, I must highlight the human group that exists both in the ProChile Commercial Office and the Agricultural Attaché’s Office. Undoubtedly, that was one of my main motivations for taking on this role, as their commitment and responsibility create an optimal working environment, always with the goal of promoting Chile and the growth of the bilateral economic relationship with Japan.

Although Japan has a different language, culture, and traditions, there are many commonalities that make this a unique opportunity. I took on the challenge because I believe we must continue to strengthen our ties and strive to increase our presence in this destination, which is advancing rapidly in areas such as Agri-food, Creative Industries, Science, Innovation, and Technology.

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