Interview with Felipe Valenzuela, Product Manager Dry Fruit Division and Antonio Aguirre, Commercial Director, Baika Chilean Fruits, Huechuraba/Santiago
Baika does not (yet) rank among Chile’s major fruit and nut exporters. So who and what is Baika?
Baika belongs to the group of San José farms, which have been active in agricultural production for more than 25 years. San José began with the cultivation of fresh blueberries in the south of the country; today more than 2,000 hectares are planted with fruits such as avocados, citrus fruits, walnuts, plums and almonds. While the avocado and walnut plantations are located in the north of Santiago, plums are grown in Region VI (Paine, Rancagua) and blueberries in the south. For the next crop season, 5,000 tons of walnuts and 4,000 tons of prunes are scheduled. Plums are grown on an area of 100 hectares; the rest is supplied by contract farmers. These producers have been working with us for several years.
Do you plan to replace fresh produce by dried fruits and nuts?
Not on purpose. Aiming at diversification, Baika has various product lines, packing companies and sales departments for the individual products. You can compare our business areas with different companies.
Where does your company rank in the different sectors?
For avocados we are very strong on the domestic market. We export to the US, Mexico and Europe. The European markets for walnuts include Germany and Spain, Russia as well as the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia and Latin America. In Chile we rank third in avocado exports, and eighth to tenth in walnut exports, with an upward trend.
How do you perform quality control for your product range?
All plantations that supply the Group are already certified according to BRC Global Standards. We have decided to follow this path of strict quality control instead of being certified according to vegetarian and vegan standards. As we have a lot of experience in this area, we can implement this quality management system from production to the end user.
What kinds of walnuts do you supply?
We have three product types: in-shell walnuts; a limited number of hand-cracked walnut kernels, and kernels cracked by shelling machines. Manual cracking has become more and more expensive each year. Currently, it represents 35-40% of our export volume for kernels. The problem is that there is real competition for manual labor. For reasons of quality assurance for this product, we do not outsource this work to service providers, but try to recruit as many workers as possible.
How do you rate the future of the prune business?
It is perfectly clear that Chile will continue to be strong on the world market and will grow. What is also certain is that there will always be competition with the American product; and not only with the US. There are also suppliers from Eastern European countries such as Serbia and Moldova. We have also seen prunes from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Armenia. Well understood, these products are not particularly good-looking, but they do have a market. They are our competitors, especially on the Russian market, and it is likely that we will deliver less there. Don’t forget that just a few years ago, Russia was our number one sales market. While the sanctions against Western countries do not affect Chile, the extremely low ruble exchange rate does. Our products are simply too expensive.
What does this mean for Baika as an exporter?
We take great care of the quality of our products. In other words, the business must mature. In Chile we have suppliers with excellent quality and those with poor quality; and in between, a few others. Our quality must be and remain stable, a premium standard quality.