A normal trading year does not exist just yet for Matias Gonzalez Rojas, CEO and owner of WHM Fresh in Chile, who started this exporting company during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown period. He used his over a decade of fruit export experience and currently exports table grapes, blueberries and avocados to the US and European markets.
Matias Gonzalez Rojas, CEO and owner of WHM Fresh in Chile
WHM Fresh currently supplies table grapes from week 6 until 14 (17) harvested from the Aconcagua and Colchagua valleys of Chile. Blueberries from Ovalle in the Limari region of Chile and from the Araucania region in the south and Hass avocados from the Limari región of Chile.
Starting export company during Covid-19
“It was challenging. I worked hard in the fruit business for over a decade in different areas and built up some great relationships. It was a daunting prospect. It felt like I was putting so much at risk and the safe option would have been to find my place in another company as there’s security in that, but deep down I knew I could carve my own path. It took a huge leap of faith from my wife and I. She was pregnant with our son (now two), we already had a 14-month-old-baby, and we were far away from my wife’s family and friends, so to say that setting up a business from scratch then wasn’t good timing is an under-statement, but it was a now-or-never moment. Table grapes from Chile weren’t doing well in the markets, and then there was Covid. It took a lot of negotiation and planning to make the leap,” recalls Gonzalez Rojas.
He is grateful to the small team who were available to work in the fields and pack houses during the Covid lockdowns. “We had unforeseen rains that meant we lost all our white seedless varieties and so we faced the trial of having to keep going despite this. It was a monumental season and we thought, hey, if we can get through this, we can get through anything! Our saving grace was loyal, skilled workers, an improving market and the quality of our fruit was good. We haven’t had a normal year yet as the market in our second year was highly unpredictable and we experienced unforeseen logistical issues. We are focused on delivering the very best to our customers that the farms can provide, and we move forward looking for new secure sales. It can be a very gung-ho industry where promises are quickly made and then undelivered and I’ve seen the pitfalls in the past and how it can all quickly fall apart. My driving force for WHM is to work respectfully, securely and sustainably. We are already seeing very positive results from this approach,” explains Gonzalez Rojas.
Current market dynamics
“This year has seen smaller yields, resulting in higher costs, and the elements that impact production seemed to happen suddenly and at once, which meant we had to step it up a gear and so we’ve been on full throttle since January. We haven’t stopped, and my wife has pointed out that I’m literally losing my hair! It is about keeping the business safe, managing its growth, and securing the fruit with supermarkets or wholesalers. The main challenges are always ensuring quality of fruit and managing costs,” says Gonzalez Rojas.
He sees higher demand given the recent shortages in Spain, Italy and some other major producing countries in Europe. “Yes, this year there is a much higher demand but we also have strong competitors that are doing very well. Grapes are a fantastic commodity and with the improvement of new varieties meeting the quality requirements of end consumers we hope to see more future demand.”
“We enjoy our business in Europe, especially with Portugal. Our plan now is to grow the business in the UK, where we will soon be based as a family. We started with Portugal, Holland, the US and Puerto Rico. This year we have added Germany, the UK and Poland. In the US the supermarkets we work with distribute from California and Miami.”
Gonzalez Rojas concludes by saying they invested in the latest weighing and packing machine to help achieve the requirements set out by international supermarkets. “We are looking to support growers who want to access new varieties which will lead to exciting new trade possibilities for both them and our end-consumers. As for sustainability, we have found a way to off-set 100% of our deliveries from cold-store to cold-store via CarbonNeutral® certification.”
For more information:
Matias Gonzalez Rojas
Tel: +569 4405 6727