Roger Manning, Director General of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association - Europe, spent two weeks travelling the length of the country's production regions to inform the growers of developments in the European marketplace during the 1999/2000 season and to present an analysis of the present situation for Chile as an exporter into Europe.

At a series of meetings organised by the Chilean Exporters' Association and Fedefruta, his message was clear: "The last 12 months have been a difficult time for the fruit trade, almost without exception. Chile has seen its volumes in Europe drop significantly, primarily in grapes, red apples and pears. This has been brought about by a below average production climate for a number of fruits, an unfavourable exchange rate situation - the strength of the dollar over the euro - and a considerable oversupply of all major lines," he said.

"However, the most important long-term underlying trend is a fundamental change in the retail dynamic. The major European supermarkets are under intense pressure from shareholders to become more profitable, and consequently more competitive, more efficient and more environment-conscious. They have predominantly responded across Europe by lowering prices to retain customers and passing the subsequent cost pressures on to suppliers at every stage of the chain. The entire food chain therefore has to reassess its efficiency and quality values - Chile is no different to any other producing nation in this respect.

"This is perhaps the most significant change in the retail dynamic for 25 years and only the best will survive in the new environment of merger and takeover," continued Mr Manning. "Many retailers have already felt the pinch in Europe and this challenge should encourage them to be more effective and progressive with their marketing strategies. But in reality, retailing as a sector in Europe has been surprisingly indecisive about the direction it should take.

"The 2000/2001 season will be difficult for everyone, there is no magic economic or commercial formula to turn the situation around in such a short space of time. We have to accept this and work harder and more effectively as individuals and collectively, to continue to produce and distribute the highest quality fruit to market specific requirements and become more aware of prevailing market forces.

"Despite the top-line problems of this season, the CFFA - Europe believes that Chile's reputation as an exporter of quality fruit has been enhanced this year, while that of some of our competitors has been unfortunately more questionable. Chile's status continues to increase in key European markets and confidence in our long-term future as a supplier remains. We can say this with confidence because in the past two months we have conducted a series of meetings with many of the leading receivers of fruit in the UK, Holland, France and Germany and reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

"The communication line between growers and retailers has to improve. All links in the chain require regular, accurate and relevant information. The first step to greater unity is greater understanding. It is our view that our key Southern Hemisphere competitors currently lack unity - by working together, Chile can succeed and build itself a considerable competitive advantage.

"The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association - Europe recognises the role it has as a link between its growers/exporters in Chile and their customers in Europe. We have an extensive internal and external communications plan in place that aims to make us the best communicators in the fruit export industry and we already have good reason to believe that we some way towards achieving our goal."