In this interview with ChileCarne, Lorena Sepúlveda, National Director of ProChile, the Chilean Exports Promotion Bureau, shares forecasts and prospects for the food sector in 2021 amid the global crisis. She also reveals the challenges the Chilean food sector must face in this “new normal.”

  • Taking into account the global and domestic scenarios, how do you envision the year-end of 2020 for Chile’s food exports?

This year has been difficult, and the global crisis scenario due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every sector. According to IHS Markit forecasts, our food exports are expected to reach 18.345 billion USD, 4% less than in 2019.

This reduction is mainly due to the weaker performance of salmon and trout exports, which were 15.9% lower than the previous year by October. This represents a 686 million USD decrease when compared to the same period of 2019.

This is in contrast to pork export numbers, the second non-copper-goods exporting sector that showed the highest growth this year, with shipments for 703 million USD, 39.4% higher than the previous year.

In this scenario, to keep supporting the sector’s exports and thus Chile’s economic recovery, in a few days we will host the “Food Innovation Enexpro,” which includes the first virtual international fair organized by ProChile, called “Chile Virtual Expo 2020.” Both activities will take place between November 30th and December 11th, with the participation of more than 150 importers from over 40 markets, around 130 exporters, and more than 500 business meetings.

  • What are the forecasts and prospects for food industry exports in 2021? Keeping in mind that Chilean exports recorded their highest rise in 30 months.

Over the past decade, food exports have represented 27% of total Chilean shipments and 58% of non-copper exports. This share represents sustained growth both in value and volume exported. Moreover, this industry is tied to the growth of the country’s regions, contributing to decentralization and job creation. In fact, on average it represents 1 out of 7 jobs in Chile.

As for 2021, and according to IHS Markit forecasts, we expect total food exports to remain steady or suffer a slight 2% drop before experiencing a significant recovery in 2022. That year, a 7% growth is expected in our shipments, reaching 19.227 billion USD.

  • What are the challenges that the food industry must face? If we consider that in spite of the pandemic, this industry never stopped supplying both Chilean and foreign markets with its products.

Chile has a successful and recognized history in food exports worldwide, based on an industry that has been able to grow and adapt to the ongoing challenges of demanding international markets. Today, this industry is a global player and the world’s leading exporter in various product categories, such as fresh cherries, fresh and dehydrated plums, dehydrated apples, sea urchin, canned mussels, as well as salmon and trout fillet. As part of this journey, I would underscore the key public-private collaboration in marketing, opening of new markets, food safety, and traceability, among other areas.

But we also know that the food industry is constantly being challenged, and now even more because of the global health crisis. The world demands for healthy, quality foods with higher safety and traceability assurances, which are also provided by sustainable companies and industries. Chile is meeting these requirements and constantly improving to move forward, while adopting the highest standards in each of these areas.

Given the above, it is vital to communicate and position all this progress in markets and among consumers, to make sure that our offer is associated with these attributes and for us to separate ourselves from the competition and align with consumer preferences.

Similarly, the appropriate coordination and collaboration of the entire industry, academia, and the public sector is essential to face these challenges.

And ProChile is addressing many of these challenges. One example is the international campaign “Chile Keeps On Going For You” that we launched together with the Imagen de Chile Foundation and the associations that comprise the Food Exporting Committee: Asoex, Wines of Chile, Salmón de Chile, ChileCarne, FaenaCar, Chile Prunes, Chile Oliva, and ExporLac. This campaign helps position our country as a reliable supplier for the world, emphasizing that Chile has remained active to meet the needs of the world population, with industries and logistics chains that did not stop working throughout these months, complying with safety protocols and international commitments, keeping our standards, as well as the trust of importers and end consumers.

A second example is the creation of the sustainability working table of the agro-exporting sector, which will allow us to learn about sustainability trends and requirements of international markets, as well as promote our sustainable exportable offer in all target markets.

On the other hand, the protocols and inspections for the entry of goods carried out by local authorities in some markets have intensified or changed due to the pandemic. This is relevant as it directly impacts the entry and distribution of products at destination. This is why ProChile is continuously monitoring these changes to the protocols, as well as working with local authorities thanks to an appropriate public-private coordination.

  • What actions, campaigns abroad and projects are expected in the food sector next year? How do we reach consumers in the so-called “new normal”?

In 2020, ProChile focused on strengthening its 3.0 strategy and tailoring it to the country’s new social scenario as well as the consequences of the pandemic. We have adjusted our planning and strategy to effectively support the Chilean exporting sector, thereby prioritizing actions that facilitate an economic recovery based on international trade and with a positive impact on employment. This is why we prioritized exporting sectors and destination markets that offer strategic opportunities for our country.

In 2021, we will continue to expand on the digitalization of our tools and services to promote our exportable offer. We will carry out virtual fairs and conferences, online business roundtables, digital campaigns on social media, and work with influencers, among other initiatives, and we will continue to organize actions and campaigns to reinforce the strategy, such as the “Chile Keeps On Going For You” campaign we talked about before. Also, the internationalization of innovation and a renewed e-commerce strategy will continue to guide our efforts in international marketing.

We aim to be leaders in sustainability in the exporting world, and therefore we will support various actors and companies to achieve common goals. We are currently developing a strategy for 2030, which will include various actions with a triple impact: environmental, economic, and social.

This year we created the “Custom-Made ProChile” program (ProChile a Tu Medida) to improve competitiveness, strengthen, and accelerate the participation of small and medium-sized exporting companies in international trade. We started working with more Chilean regions and we also extended a special call for companies led by women.

We have a network of 57 offices around the world, which allow us to be up to speed with market trends and actively support new business opportunities for our companies. This year we opened new commercial offices in Mumbai and Philadelphia, and we will strengthen our offices in Guangzhou, because China is our main trading partner, and Jakarta, the capital of the largest Southeast Asian country. These are all strategic markets for Chilean exports where we want to strengthen the diversification of our offer.

In this “new normal,” we need to reach consumers with a clear and consistent message from an industry that offers quality, safety and food security, which is also healthy, sustainable, and innovative in facing these challenges, without forgetting the channels that consumers are preferring today and that have grown, such as e-commerce and social media.