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Chilean Citrus Committee focuses on keeping U.S. customers informed and in good supply

The Chilean Citrus industry, via the Chilean Citrus Committee and Fruits from Chile, wants to provide as much useful information to its U.S. customers about the numerous steps in the supply chain — from growers to exporters to importers and finally to retailers — to keep everyone abreast of the volumes being shipped during any given season and forecasts for that overall season. One way the organizations do that is through videos posted on YouTube and on its "Fruits from Chile" website.

In July 2013, Juan Enrique Ortuzar, chairman of the Chilean Citrus Committee, commentated "Introducing Chilean Citrus!" In it he said that the Chilean industry felt that there would be a slight overall increase in Chilean citrus being exported to the U.S., although some growers in the northern regions of the country had suffered some damage and losses from a drought that was affecting the region.

"Growers were very cautious in their use of the water they had," said Ortuzar. "Still, overall our lemon volumes were similar to the year before, and late mandarins enjoyed an increase."

The challenge Chilean citrus growers continually face is living up to its commitment to always provide consistently good volumes and high-quality citrus to the U.S. market, which is the country's primary market for Mandarins, clementines and lemons.

Ortuzar explained that early harvests start in late April in the northern regions of Chile. It also has a central region, which gives the country a nice, long season to supply the U.S. with high-quality citrus.

"We harvest fruits from the north through late July and into August," he said. "Navel oranges start in the northern areas by late May, and soon after, in early to mid-June, we start in the central zone of Chile. This program runs into September."

Late Mandarins from Chile are harvested from August through late September. Ortuzar said ocean shipments to the U.S. are a short trip, and so fruit can be from the tree to consumers' tables in two to three weeks.

"A harvest generally takes about two weeks in a typical normal grove," he explained. "Pickers usually pick about 1,000 kilos of fruit per day, meaning he'll pick from many trees. Most citrus varieties are ready to be packed the minute they are picked. And most groves are picked twice. The first time only the mature fruit is taken. Pickers wait for about two weeks for the remainder of the fruit to ripen, and then they do picking the tree completely of fruit."

The quality of the citrus that Chile grows and ships is very important to its industry. Ortuzar said that freshness in a piece of citrus is reflected in its deep orange color. The taste is fresh and sweet, but it also has a little acid that provides that refreshing flavor such as one finds in a great Navel orange.

"Different citrus fruits are eaten in different ways," he said. "Navels are fantastic eaten fresh because they have a nice balance of sweet and tart. Children really like them. We suggest that you cut them into slices resembling a smile, and then smile as you bite into a slice."

Chilean Mandarins are also excellent pieces of fruit. Chile produces two types: clementines in the early season and Mandarins or W. Murcotts in mid- and late seasons. It supplies the U.S. market from mid-May through early November, which does not compete with domestic citrus production.

"These fruits are really wonderful," said Ortuzar. "They are small, convenient, easy to peel, easy to eat, juicy -- but not so that they run all over when you peel them -- and they are very sweet. This is why we are seeing so much growth in this category today."

Although everyone loves the Mandarin category, Ortuzar feels they are the perfect fruit for kids.

"They pack well in lunch boxes and in backpacks to be carried to sports practice and other outings," he said. "They are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are really the perfect piece of fruit."

Chile has another great advantage in its citrus production. It does not have fruit flies or other difficult-to-manage pests or diseases, and so the category does not require cold sterilization or treatment that can compromise the quality of other fresh fruits.

"Reliability of consistent shipments is therefore outstanding," said Ortuzar. "Chile is in a very good position to live up to its promise to U.S. consumers to bring sweet, juicy and reliable fruit to them during the summer months."