Customers visiting Gambles Ontario Produce at the Ontario Food Terminal at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 15 were surprised by a troupe of Chilean dancers in full swing.
As they danced, Eastern Canada merchandiser Susanne Bertolas from the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association handed out mini muffins made with Chilean blueberries.
The early morning event was one of several planned in the Greater Toronto area to promote the start of the Chilean fruit season, said Bertolas.
The Ontario Produce Marketing Association sponsored a grape recipe on a morning TV show and showcased Chilean blueberries, stone fruit and grapes on its Produce Made Simple website.
Local in-store and online retail promotions included a contest at Vince’s Market, which asked Facebook fans to choose their favorite Chilean blueberry pancake recipe, and this year’s point-of-sale materials were printed in English, French and Chinese.
The association also sponsored a digital ad campaign and promoted Chilean fruit with online grocery delivery service Instabuggy.
Canada is a $160 million market (in terms of U.S. dollars) for Chilean fruit and wine, with sales growing up to 5% a year, said ProChile trade commissioner Juan Antonio Figueroa.
“It’s a challenging market with the exchange rate,” said Figueroa, “and the Canadian economy is not booming. We’ll see how consumers behave.”
Gambles is importing organic Chilean blueberries for the first time this year, said berry consultant Keith Hansen.
“We find the blueberry category is expanding because of its health benefits,” Hansen said, “and parents are introducing them to their kids as a nutritious snack.”
Gambles’ vice president Richard Rose said he can barely keep up with demand for the red seedless Ralli variety, which he sells to independents and calls the best-selling grape out of Chile.
“We sell a lot from the end of December to April,” said Rose, as another skid left the floor.
Unfortunately, he said, the Chilean grape market has been hit by a double whammy, bad weather and the lower Canadian dollar.
“It’s a shock for Canadians,” he said. “We’ve always sold fruit and vegetables cheaply, and nobody expected $6.99 for a pound of grapes.”
Steve Davidson, vice president of North American Produce and another Chilean importer at the terminal, said he’s added Chilean blueberries to this year’s grape and stone fruit line-up, which includes Saturn peaches.
“There’s not as much fruit available this year but we have a nice deal with Chile,” said Davidson, citing his close relationship with major grower-shippers Gesex and San Francisco Lo Garces.
Photo by Cynthia David