Maersk and the University of Chile, in partnership with exporter Geofrut, have published a study that promises significant implications for the export of Chilean cherries, particularly towards emerging markets like India, Europe and Southeast Asia.

The 2023-2024 cherry season has come to an end, and as reported by the Chilean Cherry Fruit Committee report, more than 400,000 tons of cherries were exported this year. This figure came as a surprise to exporters, considering the adverse weather conditions experienced in 2023, including warmer temperatures during winter and intense rains preceding the harvest. Despite these challenges, the industry managed to match last year's export figure, totalling 83 million boxes.

Challenges in expanding towards Asia

Cherries have become the ’pretty girl‘ of Chilean exports due to their high demand in Asian markets. Although Chile isn't a single-product country, the land dedicated to cherry is expanding rapidly. The challenge of maintaining and increasing cherry exports has led exporters to consider market diversification for this product.

Chile is focused on Asia due to the economic development in the region. Iván Marambio, president of Frutas Chile, conducted an analysis for El Mercurio's Revista del Campo, in which he mentions that "India is one of the most attractive economies, not only for having the fastest growth and because it is expected to become the world's third-largest economy by 2027, but also because it boasts over 1.4 billion consumers with increasing purchasing power"

However, the lack of volume of other cargoes for a direct trip to destinations like India presents a logistical challenge. Internal distribution in India and the lack of interest in investing in facilities by local companies also add complexity to the commercialization process.

Person packing cherries

As countries geographically closer to China increase their number of cherry exporters, a challenge arises for the Chilean market, since closer markets may be more attractive with lower transportation costs. Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Peru and South Africa are emerging in the cherry market, highlighting the importance of post-harvest operations and attention to quality in the supply chain.

With the purpose of boosting our customer’s exports through new technologies, Maersk, in collaboration with the University of Chile, has invested in a detailed study to investigate the benefits of utilizing controlled atmosphere in the transportation of cherries.

Through this study, our aim has been to explore avenues to enhance the technique and provide our clients with the opportunity to deliver cherries at the optimal time and in top-notch quality. This can enable us to expand the market horizons for Chilean cherries, which currently rely heavily on a major buyer for an annual event – China and its New Year celebrations.

Controlled atmosphere as the key to cherry export success

Controlled atmosphere technology has emerged as a game-changer in agriculture, revolutionizing the storage and transportation of perishable products. This innovative method entails precise regulation of factors such as oxygen concentration, carbon dioxide levels, nitrogen, temperature and humidity in warehouses, aimed at extending shelf life and preserving product quality.

Study insights:

Conducted under the active supervision of the Post-Harvest Studies Center at the University of Chile, and coordinated by Daniel Guerrero, Cold Chain Specialist at Maersk, the study delves into the application of controlled atmosphere for cherry shipments. Its objective is to evaluate the technology’s impact on extending maritime container transit times without compromising fruit quality.

Víctor Escalona, the lead researcher and professor at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Chile, shared detailed insights into the findings and practical implications of the study.

Controlled atmosphere technology acts as a magic wand, delivering fruit to consumers as if freshly harvested from the tree, thereby revolutionizing the consumer experience. This calls for investment not just for economic gains but also to bolster global recognition and pave the way for entry into new markets.

Victor Escalona
Victor Escalona, Professor of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Chile

The current transportation of cherries is carried out using bags like LifeSpan®, which extend their freshness for up to 30 days from harvest to the consumer's table by maintaining the fruit's moisture. However, this method lacks visibility into gas management, leaving producers, exporters and recipients unaware of the transportation process, which limits transit time and complicates gas supervision.

Cherry boxes arranged in a rack

The study focuses on exploring the capability of controlled atmosphere technology to extend the shelf life of cherries. This involves combining controlled atmosphere with macro-perforated bags from Tres Castillos, thus allowing for proper management of gases (O2 & CO2) and ensuring optimal humidity for the cherries. An advantage of this method is the visibility of the gas process during the fruit transportation. The combination of Tres Castillos bags with our StarCare containers provides full visibility through the Captain Peter™ technology, ensuring total control over unit performance and cherry care. This synergy enables precise control of the storage and transportation environment, guaranteeing the freshness and quality of cherries at each stage of the logistics process, thus facilitating reaching more distant destinations.

For Maersk, collaborations such as with the University of Chile are crucial for developing sustainable solutions that create value and, thus, increase opportunities for growth and development in the agricultural and logistics sectors.

Daniel Guerrero
Daniel Guerrero, Cold Chain Specialist for Latin America, Maersk

In December 2023, we began the trials by sending a pilot container with cherries from Chile to Nansha, China, where the Chinese company Marston Marine & Cargo Surveying (H.K.) Limited delivered the results of the analysis of the cherries that travelled in a controlled atmosphere container. According to the company:

"Based on the results of our inspection and available information, and analyzing the actual condition of the fresh cherries, notwithstanding the foregoing, we opine that it can be observed that, after excluding differential factors as much as possible, in the case of cherries subjected to different conditions of transport gas control, the quality of the merchandise in the controlled atmosphere container N°MCAU6061287/40´RF was significantly superior to that of the standard refrigerated container N°MNBU4336424/40´RF and the unique flavour or aromas of the merchandise were also better preserved."

We can conclude that this detailed study has demonstrated the excellent potential of controlled atmosphere technology in the transportation of cherries, highlighting its ability to prolong the freshness and quality of the fruit during maritime transit. The results reflect the superiority of cherries transported in a controlled atmosphere compared to conventional methods. This innovation offers tangible benefits in terms of product quality and represents an opportunity to develop sustainable logistics solutions.

We will continue to work to offer the most advanced technologies that drive growth for our customers, reaffirming our commitment to providing innovative solutions that improve quality and efficiency throughout the supply chain.

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