Washington fruit companies buy stake in Chilean businesses
Washington State fruit growers and packers Gebbers Farms of Brewster and Chelan Fruit Cooperative have purchased a 50-percent stake in four fruit-producing companies in Angol, Chile. All are partners in a new company called Chilean South Apples, or CHISA.
Reggie Collins, chief executive officer of Chelan Fruit Cooperative, says the goal is to offer a year-round supply of apples to customers worldwide. For example, CHISA partners will be able to supply cherries to the Northern Hemisphere in December and certain varieties of apples when U.S. supplies are limited.
The four Chilean companies—Inversiones Agricolas Buenos Aires S.A., El Almendro S.A., Fundo El Encanto S.A., and Fruticola Angol S.A.—together have 1,700 acres of apple and cherry orchards in the Angol region of Chile, which is a prime growing region for producing high-colored Gala, Fuji, and Pink Lady apples, Collins said. The companies also have their own packing, sales and marketing, and nursery operations. Chelan Fresh, which sells 15 million cartons of tree fruits annually, will sell CHISA fruit destined for U.S. customers, while CHISA will sell and sell and ship Chilean fruit directly to other parts of the world.
The CHISA partners have drawn up a $30 million business plan that involves several development projects in Chile, including orchard renovation, extensive plantings of new apple varieties, new cherry plantings, and expanded packing and cold storage operations. There are also plans to commercialize exclusive new apple varieties through CHISA’s nursery operation.
“We’re all looking for that next home run, and hopefully, within our nurseries here and there, we have some opportunities,” Collins said.
Last season, CHISA exported about 1.2 million cartons of tree fruits to Asia, the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Latin America. Gebbers said production is likely to increase rapidly in coming years, partly because much of the orchard ground was planted three to four years ago, so the trees are just coming into production.
“We will see a rapid rise in production on the current acreage as well as from us looking for additional acreage to expand with more apples and cherries,” he said.
The U.S. and Chilean partners began working together when Chelan Fresh Marketing, which markets fruit for Gebbers and Chelan Fruit, sold some of the Chilean companies’ fruit to its U.S. customers. The partners have continued to work together closely, and some staff of the Washington companies spent several months in Chile in preparation for the partnership.
Collins said he thinks the partners can gain synergies from working together and exchanging knowledge and skills. They will also be better able to serve the global market. On their part, the Chilean companies were looking for partners who would be in the fruit business long term.
The Chilean owners involved in the CHISA partnership are: Toronto Trust, Andrés Lyon, Francisco Prat, and the Prat Alemparte family. Francisco Prat, who is manager of the Chilean operations, is general manager of CHISA, and Dan Tarbert of Gebbers Farms is chief financial officer. A four-member board of directors, comprising Reggie Collins, Cass Gebbers, Daniel Orezzoli Bozzalla, and Andrés Lyon, oversees operations.