Demand for exotic fruits and specialty vegetables typically experiences a huge boost in demand from European markets in the last few weeks of the year, according to Belgium-based supplier Special Fruit.
The company’s business development manager Koen Maes said sales of produce items like figs, baby pineapples and litchis tended to rise by 200-400% as Christmas approached.
“We have a basic assortment of exotics where there is stable or high growth all year, such as avocados or mango, but in the special exotic and special vegetable range we indeed see an increase in the run-up to Christmas,” he told PBUK.
“The main products that have this growth in the Christmas period are figs, dragon fruit (pitahaya), litchis, baby pineapple, kumquats, and carambola. These are not the big exotics – they are well-known by the public but not every week or month of the year.
“We also welcome in the Christmas period the new arrival of POM Wonderful pomegranates; health, taste and quality combined with a well-known brand.”
He attributed the increase in demand in December to the celebratory time of the year, which complements well with special exotic produce items.
“We are cleverly meeting this need with our BestChoice range of exotic fruits. At the same time, we are also encouraging curious consumers to make the holiday season healthy, fair, and extra festive,” he said.
The popularity of exotic fruits and specialty vegetables typically also increases in various different European markets at certain times of the year when there are religious holidays.
“It all really depends on which holidays are organised and celebrated, but in general those exotics are consumed with a flat rate,” he said.
For the more established exotic items like avocados and mangoes, he attributed much of the growth to the increasing availability of ready-to-eat fruit in supermarkets and mentioned an increasing proportion of papayas are also being sold in that format in recent years.
Evolution in sourcing regions
Special Fruits currently sources the majority of its exotics from Latin America and Eastern Asia, but Maes said the company had been seeing an evolution of production to areas closer to its key markets.
“They are the most important regions, but we are also seeing an evolution of production to southern Europe and Northern or West Africa to grow exotics which are normally only commercially available in Latin America or East Asia,” he said.
He said this was a positive development from a sustainability point-of-view as it would reduce the distance the specialty exotics had to travel via air freight – the preferred mode of transportation due to the relatively low volumes and the speed which with suppliers have to react to changes in demand.
In addition, he pointed out this evolution could provide tremendous social benefits to communities in Africa growing the specialty exotics, as had been the case in Latin America and Asia.
“So it’s beneficial on both sides. When it is more close, we can have close links to European or African producers and can therefore create better quality and have better follow-ups,” he said.
Special Fruit is part of the Sustainability Initiative Fruits and Vegetables (SIFAV) 2020 covenant which aims to make all produce imports sustainable, in part through helping farmers become GlobalG.A.P.-certified and socially audited.
“This means that our farmers are audited on environmental and food safety aspects, and a check of the social working conditions is carried out. The majority of our volume is now from sustainable production,” Maes said.