South American top-quality food exporter Silchron is launching its first export of certified organic almonds from Chile this year. The project is celebrating its third anniversary since the conversion process from conventional to organic almond production began.
Entrepreneurs Silvina and Rodolfo Saranz, a daughter and father duo, started Silchron 15 years ago. This is a firm with a unique approach to serving top, European supermarket chains and distributors with their needs for dried fruit and nuts, edible oils, Andean grains, and frozen foods from South America.
Almonds are one of the healthiest foods available in the world. They are also the most consumed (64%), followed by hazelnuts (11%), nuts (10%) pistachios (8%), and cashews (5%). Almonds require mild winters and warm springs and summers to grow, and no frost during the flowering stage. The trees also demand lots of water, around 1.1 gallons per nut.
The United States (California) supplies over 75 percent of the entire almond market. Spain is the leading producer of organic almonds. Chile has ideal weather conditions to grow nuts and dried fruits and has been producing almonds for many years. It only began increasing exports, however, at the end of the nineties. According to Odepa, the South American country exported 1.000 tons of almonds in 1998 and 7.500 tons in 2018, valued at 87 million US dollars.
Even though the Chilean production volume is still small compared to California and other countries, it has great potential for organic production given its geographic position. Chile is physically isolated from other countries, bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the east, the Andean highlands in the west, the Atacama Desert in the north, and the Arctic in the South. This geographical situation makes Chile a “phytosanitary island,” with no sources of contamination from outside. The weather also offers warm days and cold nights, which means less concern for pests and need of pesticides.
Chile has also been free from aflatoxins for many years, a fact which has been internationally recognized. They are mycotoxins produced by strains from the Aspergillus family (molds) that contaminate human and animal food during growing and post-harvest storage.
And the European Union and the Republic of Chile signed an agreement on trade in organic products in April 2017 under which both parties recognize the equivalence of their respective organic production standards and control systems. The deal became effective on January 1st, 2018.
The geographical factor is a strength for Silchron, as well as its experience in dealing in the global market and finding the right suppliers for large retailers that demand high standards and quality.
At first, however, convincing its European customers that it was possible to get premium quality products packaged directly for them at the origin (in South America) was a challenge. Another issue was finding and developing the right partners in South America.
“To find the right partners, you need to make sure they can meet the strict quality standards, controls and requirements our customers expect, but also that they share the same values and goal of establishing long-term relationships,” noted Silvina.
Today, the company has 12 partners and offices in Chile and Argentina and offers over 40 food products. The firm is a strong and reliable supplier of dried fruits and nuts, conventional and organic, and develops programs for retail packaging and private labels for well-known customers like Edeka, Lidl, Spar Austria, Norgen Groupen, and Axfood.
“We do business in Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and other parts of the world such as Japan and New Zealand,” said Silvina. The firm has been building business units and increasing opportunities for organic foods as one of its goals. Silchron worked with their New Zealand organic customer, Ceres, to develop the organic almond project. During the conversion years, Ceres provided immense support. It purchased part of the transitional crop at a premium price.
Demand for organic foods is on the rise, but the area of organic farmland is not growing at the same rate. Finding a buyer that supports the conversion from conventional to organic or for any new organic farming initiative is a way to increase the amount of land devoted to organic production.
“It has been an exciting journey to see what strategic and solid partnerships from field-to-shelf can accomplish,” said Silvina. “It feels good to know organic farming does not pollute the environment with synthetic chemicals.” In the third year of conversion, production has achieved volumes that compare with conventional almond production.
Thirty-five percent of Silchron’s portfolio is currently certified organic. The firm also exports organic chia, Andean grains, Amazon (Brazilian) nuts, walnuts, and raisins. “Next, we will be in the process of offering organic prunes from Chile,” said Silvina.
The Silchron team attends the leading food fairs and will participate at BIOFACH in Nuremberg February 13-16 this season.