Coronavirus takes toll on Chilean cherry exports to China market
Published: Feb 24, 2020 07:38 PM

A farmer is showing cherries at Finca Chicauma, in Santiago, Chile on December 5, 2019. (Xinhua/Jorge Villegas)

The coronavirus has battered Chilean fruit exports to China. Industry insiders predict the coronavirus outbreak could cause $100 million in losses to Chile's fruit exports, as cut-off logistics will dent sales.

Despite the initial good expectation to sell well during the Spring Festival celebration, only 249 out of 1,500 containers of the cherries arriving in China during the Spring Festival have been sold to the wholesale markets of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, Ronald Bown Fernandez, president of the Association of Fruit Exporters of Chile (ASOEX), said in a roundtable discussion on the impact of coronavirus on Chilean fruit export on February 14.

He predicted the whole Chilean fruit industry would suffer a decrease in revenue of nearly $100 million in 2020.

Zhu Danpeng, an analyst on China's food industry, told the Global Times on Monday that the coronavirus outbreak has a big influence on the Chilean cherry industry as China is a major buyer.

"I figure the whole export of Chilean cherries may suffer $70 million in losses if the situation does not turn better," said Zhu, adding that more than half of China's imported cherries are from Chile.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many shipments arriving China were temporarily backlogged at the port and the sales price after the Spring Festival was lower than expected, Pan Guohua, a Shanghai-based fruit importer told the Global Times on Monday, adding that the sales had been "slow due to the cut-off logistics."

"Many of our second-tier traders from Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces were unable to purchase in Shanghai due to the blocked traffic. Our sales  plunged by at least 70 percent compared to the same period last year" said Pan.

"Me and my clients in Chile all hope that the coronavirus can quickly pass. The losses will be shared to deal with the unexpected situation," he added.

To deal with the cherries in stock, Pan has to divert the fruit to online sales. 

"Since cherries are not easy to stock we have to find ways to sell them before they perish. We divert most of our stock to online platforms and cut the sales price by 60 or 70 percent," Pan said.

Accordingly, the price of Chilean cherries is also falling on the lower-end retail market.

A search on China's e-commerce site Taobao showed that 1 kg of medium-sized Chilean cherries were priced for less than 100 yuan ($14), but bad reviews are mounting, with most labeled as "not fresh, rotten" due to the long-time spent in transportation.

"The price is definitely more affordable. But many have gone bad," Lin Yu, a local consumer told the Global Times on Monday.

China's cherry imports have jumped as many tend to give cherries as high-end gifts during festivals and for daily consumption. According to statistics from the General Administration of Customs, imports of the fruit totaled 186,000 tons in 2018. The value was about $1.3 billion, up 183 percent year-on-year.
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