A Chilean puts her e-commerce expertise to good use
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2024-02-06  ·   Source: NO.7-8 FEBRUARY 15, 2024
Fiorella Bonino Sotomayor takes a selfie whilst picking cherries (COURTESY PHOTO)

China and Chile are located on opposite sides of the world. However, many Chinese have tasted Chilean wine or Chile's sweet and juicy cherries.

The latter are highly prized by consumers nationwide, as they flock to supermarkets in the leadup to the Spring Festival or lunisolar New Year, which fell on February 10 this year, to buy cherries, either for their own consumption or as gifts.

For Fiorella Bonino Sotomayor from Chile, the months around this traditional celebration are crucial.

Fresh surroundings 

China was not on Bonino's horizon until a few years ago. Like many great opportunities in life, this Asian country appeared on her radar by chance. In 2017, when Bonino was working for a Spanish e-commerce company doing business in Chile, she received an invitation from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce to participate in a forum about the Belt and Road Initiative—in China. The country in 2013 proposed this initiative to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. As of late 2023, 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Chile, had joined the initiative.

At first, Bonino was hesitant about the trip because she had an extremely limited understanding of China. Her only reference to the country were the Chinatowns in a few cities around the world, such as New York or San Francisco. She said, "But then I figured 'this might be a little different from what I know.' And so, in the end, I accepted the invitation."

In June 2017, Bonino visited China for three weeks, and found herself pleasantly surprised. She recalled, "I was crazy about China. It fascinated me."

She was so impressed that she found a way to return that same year. And eventually, she applied for a scholarship that allowed her to pursue a master's degree in business administration in Beijing.

Bonino started her career as an industrial civil engineer for several consulting firms in Chile, and then moved into the business sector, specifically e-commerce. After completing her graduate studies in Beijing, she worked in China for a while to explore new opportunities, all in all residing in the country from 2017 to 2019. 

But despite this relatively short China stint, she was able to weave a network and establish valuable connections, as well as set up her own business.

A cherry on top 

This accumulated experience proved to be priceless and crucial for the future.

Today, Bonino manages Los Andes Beltroad from Chile, in collaboration with Cheng Suda, who works from Shanghai as the company's operations director, in the export of cherries and plums from the Andes Mountains to the Chinese market.

According to a company publication, through the efforts of a multidisciplinary team behind the Chilean fruit collection and packaging process, Los Andes Beltroad brings high-quality Chilean fruit to the Chinese market.

Today, Chile is the main supplier of fresh temperate fruits to China, exporting a hefty 576,063 tons in the 2022-23 season, an increase of 1.7 percent year on year. Cherries top the list, followed by table grapes, plums and nectarines. But the cherry volume is particularly high: No less than 88 percent of Chilean cherries exported abroad go to China.

For producers and traders of this fruit, this Asian country represents an extremely attractive market, and for Bonino, an opportunity that cannot be ignored.

Thanks to Los Andes Beltroad's teaming up with multimodal logistics companies, several tons of cherries, including the Brooks, Royal Dawn, Santina and Lapins varieties, have been transported by air since the start of its operations to meet the needs of Chinese consumers.

Bonino works closely with Chilean farmers, mainly located in valleys in the country's central and northern regions, such as the Corchagua Valley. "We must carefully monitor the growth and harvest of cherries to ensure their quality and size, as they are classified by size," she said.

Since 2022, the company has been marketing the cherries and plums it exports under its own brand—Dancing Sun. "Our boxes feature a QR code that directs consumers to our store on so they can learn more about the products we offer in China and also about the premium Chilean products of brands that work with us," another company statement reads. is one of China's biggest e-commerce platforms.

The launch ceremony of a direct shipping route to facilitate cherry imports from Chile at the Tianjin Port on January 17 (CNSPHOTO)

The road ahead 

This directly relates to Bonino's second entrepreneurial venture: She made use of the benefits of China's e-commerce industry to create a consulting company enabling Chilean food and beverage companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to introduce their premium products to the Chinese market.

The consultancy has introduced wine, olive oil, cheese and honey, among other products, from the small Chilean partner brands it works with to the Chinese market via its store on "And now, I'm trying to specialize more and see which products work best in China," Bonino explained.

Due to innovations in logistics and technological infrastructure in recent years, coupled with the myriad of products available to consumers, China's e-commerce sector has grown increasingly strong.

Moreover, the country's e-commerce market is the largest in the world—and keeps developing at a very swift pace. With these factors firmly in place, there is still great development potential, and foreign entrepreneurs like Bonino too, can benefit from that.

Besides investing a lot of time and energy in these two businesses—exporting fruits and running the consultancy's online shop—Bonino has also given several lectures at universities and other institutions, sharing some of her experiences in and knowledge about the Chinese market.

Not everything in life is easy and for those who want to break into this market, success is often a matter of trial and error.

But as this young Chilean has found out: With perseverance and persistence, the fruits will be there for the picking.

(Print Edition Title: A Fruitful Foray) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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