It is the opinion of the managing partner of Silvestres, Matías Campos Santa Maria, and Pedro Monti, sales manager, who refer to global markets, the industry and this company that is a partner of Chileprunes and was created in 1989.
But first, a reference to the weather…
The “Current of Niño” has caused intense rains during the Chilean winter that is now ending. For the last 10 years, drought has been a relevant issue, but thanks to the intense rainfall in the central and southern part of the country, now and until 2024, it will not be an issue, at least for the Chilean prunes industry, concentrated in the VI Region (a few kilometers south of Santiago).
Of course, it is understood that the most beneficial rain is until September, and in spring it is not so beneficial – this year, the fruit set and flowering should be long, because there were 45% fewer cold hours -, and if they occur rains in summer, that could be dramatic as it could cause damage to the fruit.
This year, the production of Chilean prunes should be lower than normal, since with very few hours of cold (far from the 600 hours required), the tree is less strong for this season.
Matías Campos expresses that, in any case, “we are coming from the best two years in the history of prunes in Chile. In 2021 and 2022, we had historic prices due to production declines or climate problems in other producing countries. Now, what we are seeing is the return to more normal prices.”
On the other hand, the contingency is different: in international markets, we are seeing quite expensive interest rates where, for example, it is expensive to have containers in the warehouse; Having unused stock is bad, it costs a lot of money, they point out.
China and India
Regarding international markets, they point out, the Chinese went out to buy fruit very early, and in recent months, especially starting in August, shipments have stabilized, slowing down the accelerated purchase of the first half of 2023, with a purchase more ‘drip’. South America and the United States are stable, but a devalued Renminbi (RMB) in China creates this brake. China is a very price-sensitive market, with a high level of competition, so financial problems immediately impact import businesses, they add.
Matías Campos, likewise, views very favorably the public-private achievement that allows the tenderized dried plum to enter India, a market of more than 1.4 billion inhabitants.
“It is great news, we will be able to sell there in the short term. Those who have the possibility of consuming a product of this type, due to price, are approximately 250 million people and it continues to grow due to the economic boom that India is going through. If you convince the Indian family that this is a healthy and good product for the elderly and children, that family group will go out of their budget to buy it. They see it as something integral, therefore, there is a good future there, the people of India see food in a very different way, they attribute a lot of importance to it, which is why a product as positive and healthy as the plum has many possibilities for growth”, adds Pedro Monti, and “without a doubt, in a few years, India will be in the top ten of our exports of Chilean prunes.”
We will have to follow this market very closely to understand what its needs will be – they say -, due to its characteristics it is likely that it will be a market for tenderized prunes with and without pits, but only time will tell.
From the origins
Silvestres was founded in 1989 and its beginnings date back to the export of wild mushrooms to Germany, hence the origin of the name. It was a job in the middle of the forests of southern Chile, supported by very simple people, especially in the winter and spring periods.
Then, they ventured into dried fruits, achieving their first export to Brazil in 1996, first with raisins, and years later with dehydrated plums. Now, they also offer walnuts and fresh garlic.
Today, Chileprunes’ partner company, which has nearly 50 permanent employees – which rises to 360 during the harvest season – exports around 3,000 tons of dehydrated plums alone to more than 40 countries, mainly in Europe and Asia, The company expects to continue growing between 1,500 and 2,000 more tons in the coming years. This product constitutes around half of Silvestres’ business.
Among the innovations brought by the firm is a new harvesting system of French origin that causes a slight shake to the tree with a curved movement, allowing the ripe fruit to fall, and not the medium and green ones. In 5 minutes you can make 15 trees. This allows more passes to be made through the same orchard during the harvest season, thus ensuring that the fruit harvested each time has the highest degree of maturity possible. All this results in an optimal and homogeneous quality of what we export to the world.
This machine will be available for the 2024 harvest and has a cost of 180 thousand euros, although it can also be rented. Among its advantages is that it is a simple technology that does not have an engine and can be pulled by an ordinary tractor.
With offices in Santiago, a processing plant in Rinconada de Los Andes, Silvestres owns 80 hectares in Santa Cruz and Marchigüe; in addition to receiving fresh fruit on consignment from another 25 fields in the areas of Copiapó, Vallenar, Elqui, Limari, Aconcagua, Chacabuco, Maipo, Colchagua.
“We are not buyers of dried fruit ready to sell in other markets. We like to receive it fresh to control the drying and for traceability reasons,” says Campos. In fact, the company has a contract with SunSweet for the work of washing and drying dried plums. It is a formula in which they were pioneers in Chile, around 10 years ago, and which is now quite widespread, since it provides quite a few differences in the quality of the product, delivering a more homogeneous fruit, in addition to phytosanitary and organoleptic benefits.