Puro ChileDate: 07/01/10 | Source: Specialty Food Magazine | Author: Dennis Marrero
Categories: Industry Operations; Retailers
Is Chile going to be the next major player in the American specialty food scene? This company is planning on it. Beginning with a signature food and wine store and event space in Manhattan, Puro Chile, Inc., is going to promote the best its home country has to offer.
By Dennis Marrero
Puro Chile, Inc. opened Puro Chile on Centre Street in New York City last September, with a specialty food retail area that doubles as a space for events and displays. In November 2009, Puro Wine, a neighboring Chilean wine shop, opened. Although both locations are retail establishments, the company’s mission goes beyond the retail realm. “It is a space to highlight Chile’s three main competitive industries: wine, tourism and gourmet foods,” explains Mauricio Banchieri, the director of Puro Chile, Inc., who developed the idea for a showcase of Chilean products in the U.S. With the help of investing partners Isabel Martinez, co-director of Puro Chile, and Tulio Vera and Walter Steimer, co-directors of Puro Wine, Banchieri has been able to create a permanent presence for his country’s products in America.
In addition to special events—which include introductions to new products and traditional Chilean favorites such as Pisco Sour cocktails and launches for books and movies—the space also features Chilean art and sells Chilean crafts.
It is best to think of the space as something beyond specialty imports. “Puro Chile is a country-brand store,” Banchieri explains. “It’s a platform that can test, sell, promote and market the services and products coming from Chile.” Though events like the Fancy Food Shows do spotlight Chile, he notes, until now there was no permanent structure to promote the country’s importance to the specialty food and wine market. Banchieri and a staff of two full-time and two part-time employees have taken on that role.
Chile currently ranks 17th in world food production, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Banchieri expects this standing to only progress in the future: “Chile will play an important role in the next 20 years. The country is producing food that is clean, clear and pure.” While many South American countries have the ability to produce such products, he says, “Chile’s free economy allows the country to export these products around the world.”
Puro Chile is a private enterprise but part of the company’s business plan is to create partnerships with the Chilean government and key industries. “We are laying out an infrastructure that is investing in Chile and we are offering this space to everybody, including the government,” he says.
In fact, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who was in town for a United Nations meeting, attended Puro Chile’s grand opening to express her support. Though there has been a change of government since this time, Banchieri still sees Puro Chile as a tool for the Chilean government to use and expects to continue collaboration in the future on how to promote the country.
The Soho address could well be a fortuitous choice for Puro Chile. Just one block north is Despaña, a specialty store focused on celebrating the finest foods and beverages from Spain. Three blocks east, is Di Palo’s Fine Foods, a landmark Italian cheese and specialty store in New York’s Little Italy that recently opened Enoteca Di Palo, a wine shop devoted to the regions of Italy (To read more about both of these stores, visit specialtyfood.com/SFMarchive under the July/August 2009 issue.)
“We believe that New York remains a core place to showcase products and get exposure, not only in North America, but all over the world,” says Banchieri. But Manhattan is only the first step in Puro Chile’s future goals. “We would like to expand this [retail-event space] concept to other cities and other countries if it does well.”
Puro Chile carries more than 25 different types of specialty foods with a large variety of brands and options in each category. For example, signature Chilean ingredients such as merquén, a ground mixture of dried and smoked Chilean pepper and other spices, and murtilla, a native Chilean berry similar to cranberry used in southern Chilean cuisine, are used in interesting combinations. Some examples are Huerto Azul’s Myrtleberry Chutney with Merquen and O’clé’s Sparkling Juices, which use murtilla and other native Chilean berries to make up a line of six different beverages. In olive oils alone, there are about 20 to 30 types with a variety of blends and flavors. However, Banchieri notes that sales have been slow, although there is good feedback from customers. “Chile doesn’t have many gourmet finished products,” he notes. “We have more gourmet ingredients like olive oils, vinegars and chutneys. They’re foods that need a companion, which has made our work a little harder.” In order to support this, Puro Chile has two sampling tables on display, one that offers different oils and another that features chutneys and other spreads with bread and crackers.
Puro Chile is also beginning to produce/sell its own brand of products and debuted the first releases at the 2010 Summer Fancy Food Show. To start, the brand will focus primarily on items that can support large volume such as olive oils, honey, quinoa and salmon products. However, Puro Chile will work with smaller producers that are not ready for solo international distribution by creating an umbrella brand (This would be similar to a co-op.). According to Banchieri, although many Chilean gourmet producers are making products that would do well in the U.S. market, they don’t have the volume or means to support demand and most do not want to deal with the U.S. regulatory agencies. The Puro Chile brand will unite these producers in an attempt to increase awareness of Chilean products. Banchieri also hopes that the success of the Puro Chile brand will help support the country’s more established gourmet producers.
Puro Wine operates separately than the gourmet shop but it also belongs to Puro Chile, Inc. and accounts for 60 percent of the parent company’s sales The store sells 200 Chilean labels ranging from $9 to $150. “We need to show that Chile is producing better wine and more niche wine,” says Banchieri.
TOURISM AND CULTURE…
Puro Chile has partnered with tourism companies, mainly hotels in Patagonia, the desert of San Pedro and Easter Island, to promote products at the New York store. “They pay a small fee and we provide customers with brochures and information and show video footage of popular tourist destinations on screens in the store,” explains Banchieri. The store’s design allows the retail space to be converted easily into a tourism event space with shelving units that can be closed to form a solid wall.
Recently, Puro Chile has partnered with LAN Airline and has set up an “online terminal” where customers can book flights and travel packages that the airline is promoting. While this can be done from a personal computer, the Puro Chile staff assists customers looking for more information about the country.
As a response to the recent earthquake and the devastation it caused, Chile’s tourism industry has become more aggressive in terms of promoting the country and Puro Chile’s New York location is making it a great asset to the industry, says Banchieri.
THE STORE'S NAME…
Chile’s national anthem begins with the line, “Puro, Chile, es tu cielo azulado.” Translated, this means “Pure, Chile, is your blue sky.” Banchieri believes that Chile’s vastly untouched land is its strength. “Chile has a lot to offer because it has a pureness that the world is now seeking,” he notes. |SFM|
Dennis Marrero is associate editor of Specialty Food Magazine.
On February 27, 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Maule Region of Chile resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars in damage. “Luckily,” says Mauricio Banchieri, director of Puro Chile, Inc., “we are a creative country and we have resources that allow us to raise money abroad.” With the help of various organizations, the country is beginning to stand up again, he says.
To assist in the fundraising effort, Puro Chile and Wines of Chile have partnered with Levantando Chile Fund, a local Chilean nonprofit that is channeling assistance to communities on the ground. To learn more or to donate to the cause, visit levantandochile.org.