Ecuadorian mangoes have been present on the UK market for over a decade. But clear consumer preference for the fibreless Kent mango – not the main variety produced in the South American country – has kept a lid on exports. Until now. Produce Business UK interviews Bernardo Malo, who heads up the Ecuadorian Mango Foundation (Fundación Mango del Ecuador), to discover why the trade is set to become increasingly relevant for UK buyers
“Volumes to the UK have been relatively low as a consequence of logistic limitations (a lack seafreight space), together with the climate and the fact that Kent is not the main [mango] variety grown in Ecuador,” begins Malo. “But the UK is certainly a potential growth market for Ecuador.
“Not so long ago most UK importers saw Ecuadorian mangoes as an option only during those seasons when Brazil and Peru were either short or late with their crops, which meant there would be a gap in the market. That was when Ecuador came in.”
Now, however, Malo says a few distributors have shown their support for the Ecuadorian mango trade in order to guarantee a consistently smooth transition in their supply from the different mango-growing countries on an annual basis.
“I believe Ecuadorian mangoes have become an item that most UK importers need to rely on because there is now usually a gap between Brazilian and Peruvian production,” he states. “I think Ecuadorian mangoes will keep increasing their presence in the UK as the industry is certainly working towards that direction. I believe we could easily triple our Kent volume over the next five years or so.”
Relatively new varieties like Ataulfo, whose season begins in October, represent another advantage that Ecuador has in comparison to other mango-exporting countries, says Malo. “Ataulfo is a sweet, fibreless variety that will have a huge potential for export by air and also by boat,” he reveals. “In terms of varieties, we have high expectations for Ataulfo.”
Already, Malo claims UK consumers are starting to become more familiar with the Ataulfo variety, which originates in Mexico but has been grown in Ecuador for 10 to 12 years. Despite its smaller size, he says its consistency and taste are superior to many other mango varieties, which points towards growth potential in the UK.
“Ataulfos should have a natural market among UK retailers and wholesalers,” Malo explains. “The processors will probably not take Ataulfos as they would be considered too small and, as such, they will not achieve the required yield. The first trial shipments of this variety from Ecuador show that it does have potential. We shall see the outcome in a couple of years’ time – it certainly matches in eating quality of what UK consumers want.”
Although Ecuador has not yet exported Ataulfo mangoes to the UK on a large scale, Malo points out that the country already has the capacity to ship 1 million cartons (or 4,000 tonnes) to other destinations.
Overall, Ecuador’s mango production has remained relatively steady for the past five years or so, according to Malo. Today, the country has 5,500 hectares planted with mangoes, of which the Kent variety accounts for a limited 20%.
The season runs from October until the middle of January, with the harvesting of Kents usually getting underway in November. The bulk of the average annual 10-million (4kg) carton export crop is shipped to the US, which receives about 85%, while sendings to Europe remain at a 4% level.
Retail and processing potential
With such a high concentration of Ecuador’s mango volume still distributed to the US market, Malo says diversification is necessary, especially towards “steady and mature” markets like the UK.
“The UK represents an important market for Ecuador,” he states. “From my perspective, the UK has an important growth potential, especially in retail and within the processing sector, which can move a good volume of fruit of different sizes. This marks a difference with other European countries, which are mainly limited to market specific sizes. The growth of the fresh-cut industry worldwide is also impressive and the UK is no exception to that trend either.”
While some UK importers are already strongly supporting the Ecuadorian mango trade, ultimately Malo believes future expansion will mainly come down to consistency on the part Ecuador’s supply, coupled with long-term sourcing support from buyers.
“A grower, regardless of whether he is from Ecuador or not, needs to deal with reliable commercial partners that will take his product on a consistent, annual basis,” he says. “On the other hand, this also demands a strong commitment from the grower at farm level in order to comply with the different market requirements.”
With the UK showing a clear preference for fibreless mangoes – namely Kent and Keitt, Malo believes increasing Ecuador’s production of Kent mangoes for the UK is an interesting commercial option in particular, provided buyer support is assured.
“The Kent harvest takes place on average five to six weeks later than Tommy Atkins and therefore there’s a risk of Ecuador overlapping with Peru’s production,” he points out. “It is basically a matter of having a reliable counterpart in the importers – buyers who are committed to take the fruit regardless of the origin. We are seeing this happen already.”
Major improvements at source
To reinforce its attraction as a supplier, Malo claims Ecuador has gradually become more proficient when it comes to dealing with the UK market and complying with the strict regulations that are in place. He says around 60% of the country’s mango orchards are already GlobalGAP certified, while a few farms have also achieved other certifications required to sell to certain UK retailers.
“In terms of quality and packaging practices, Ecuadorian mangoes are certainly on a different level compared with, let’s say, ten years ago,” Malo points out. “Several investments have been made at both a field and packhouse level. In recent years, important packhouse investments have been made to better guarantee that our mangoes will be treated in accordance with UK market requirements.”
For the 2015/16 season, the Ecuadorian Mango Foundation projects an estimated volume of 150,000 cartons of Kent will be shipped to the UK. The estimate is lower than the previous campaign due to the late season start that Ecuador experienced, as a result of a late winter (the rainy season), combined with temperatures that were too warm during flowering. That was added to the fact that Brazilian mangoes remained in the market longer than usual, while Peru began its mango season earlier than forecast; thereby shrinking the window for Ecuador.
While the future looks bright for Ecuador’s mango trade in the UK, the US dollar, which became Ecuador’s national currency in 2000, could present one obstacle to growth during certain periods. “Among the different challenges that always exist, it is also worth mentioning the disadvantage that Ecuador has in term of the US dollar, which is presently a very strong currency,” Malo notes. “This makes it more difficult for us to compete with other countries that have weaker currencies and as such, better exchange rates.”
Read other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Ecuador: