Avocado growers in Ecuador growing fast, determined to meet UK standards

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Corpoaguacate Hass avocado orchards in Ecuador

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While historically Ecuador has been recognised globally for its considerable banana and tropical fruit exports, Hass avocados are the latest commercial crops to present promise for the international market. As UK consumers continue their love affair with avocados, PBUK discusses the potential for a new Latin American source to open up to UK buyers.

In the next five years, Corpoaguacate – which describes itself as the organisation that has driven and developed the commercial production of Hass avocados in Ecuador – hopes to produce 5,000 tonnes of the variety that has become hugely popular with European consumers. 

The potential, meanwhile, is greater still, as more orchards along the coast and in the Andes highlands of the Latin American country are planted and subsequently enter commercial bearing. 

According to Jorge Altuna, who heads up Corpoaguacate, the majority of his grower members are interested in exporting to the UK, with supply availability from October to July. 

Exports, however, will remain limited until GlobalGAP standards are attained. 

To realise their ambitions, a number of Corpoaguacate’s members are now in the process of certification to satisfy the UK market’s strict requirements – following in the footsteps of their well-known and successful neighbours. 

“We’re just starting out, and although we’re very small in comparison to our neighbours Peru and Colombia, we have good [fruit] quality,” Altuna tells PBUK.

“Eight to 10 of the members are working on GlobalGAP certification. We hope to be ready for mid-2019. At the moment, we could supply 200 tonnes to the UK.”

One of the largest Hass avocado producers in Ecuador, Agrinecua (Agrícola Innovadora Ecuatoriana), which is headquartered on the coast in Santa Elena, is just one producer endeavouring to meet the standard.

“We are in the process of getting GlobalGAP certification, and we hope to have it ready for next year [2019],” reveals Doménica Rueda, Agrinecua’s sales and marketing coordinator. 

“The UK is a really exciting market; it’s very promising.

“Europe wants good prices and quality, and we want to stand out for our quality. We are trying to promote our country so buyers recognise us for more than just bananas.”

To explore the potential of the UK market, Rueda attended The London Produce Show and Conference 2018 last June with the support of the UK office for ProEcuador, the Ecuadorian Institute for Export and Investment Promotion. 

“Agrinecua is one of the biggest Hass avocado growers and one of the only companies in the process of achieving GlobalGAP recognition,” comments Juan Carlos Yépez, the Trade Commissioner of Ecuador / Commercial Counsellor for ProEcuador in the UK. 

“Most growers are open to [gaining the] certification, but they want a buyer that will go with them to give them the justification and the assurance for doing so.”

Yépez reveals to PBUK that a number of well-known UK avocado buyers have expressed an interest in sourcing Hass avocados from Ecuador. Already, some are in talks with suppliers and visiting the country’s orchards.

At this early stage of Ecuador’s Hass avocado development, however, various UK importers declined to comment to PBUK about their plans or the country’s potential.

According to ProEcuador, a second avocado producer association called Agrocatem (Asociación de Agricultores Aguacateros del Cantón Mira) is based in Mira, Carchi Province in northern Ecuador. 

To date, members of Corpoaguacate – located in Ibarra, the capital of Imbabura Province in the north of Ecuador – have exported Hass avocados from Ecuador to Spain, the Netherlands, France and Hong Kong.

“The response has been satisfying,” explains chairman Altuna. “They like the quality and the flavour of Ecuadorian Hass avocados.” 

Agrinecua, which is reaping its first year of solid production of an estimated 400 tonnes, will start exporting this year under the Fresto brand.

“Already, we’re contracted to sell to Spain (Frutas Montosa) and we’re talking to buyers in the UK and Germany,” reveals Rueda.

Together with 100ha of Hass avocados under production in Santa Elena for the past three-and-a-half years, Rueda claims Agrinecua is also able to export the variety all year-round by sourcing from orchards located in different provinces across Ecuador. 

The group’s production runs from May to July for the orchards located along Ecuador’s coastline, while in the highlands the season runs from September to February.

In the future, Agrinecua’s total Hass production could rise to an estimated 800-1,000 tonnes. 

Indeed, thanks to Ecuador’s location on the Equator, Altuna at Corpoaguacate says the country benefits from the ideal conditions to produce export-quality Hass avocados.

“Ecuador has the location, the climate, the soil and water quality and production at different altitudes that contribute to the possibility for various harvesting seasons,” he notes. 

When it comes to supplying the UK, however, Agrinecua is keen to focus on windows of opportunity on the market.

“We are able to export all year-round, but we want to find the gap on the UK market,” Rueda points out.

In the meantime, Altuna says Corpoaguacate is working to unite and prime the Hass avocado industry in Ecuador for international success.

Indeed, the sector was established largely to satisfy the export market since Fuerte has long been the commonly produced and consumed avocado variety in Ecuador.

“We’re the organisation that incorporates the players from Ecuador’s avocado sector,” he states. “We are working on research, the dissemination of best practices, the promotion of consumption, marketing and representing our members before public and private institutions.” 

Such is the interest in the global potential of Ecuador’s Hass sector. In the past year, Corpoaguacate’s membership has risen from 25 to 35 members.

“We have 35 members located on the coast and in the highlands covering 450 hectares that are in commercial bearing,” Altuna tells PBUK, adding that while Fuerte avocados are included in the production area, Hass is the prevailing variety.

“In 2018, Corpoaguacate [members] exported 200 tonnes; compared with 120 tonnes in 2017,” Altuna adds. “During the previous years, the fruit was only sold to the local market.”

As Hass avocado production emerges, Agrinecua also claims to be spearheading table grape production in its region, with 105ha under production to date.

“We are the pioneers of Hass avocado and grape production in Santa Elena, which is one-and-a-half hours from Guayaquil, the main port,” Rueda tells PBUK. “There are a few other growers, but we started it all. Our idea is to help small growers to develop their plantations and help them export their produce.”

Presently, Agrinecua’s grape business focuses on two varieties. Production of Red Globe runs from August to January, while Arra 15 is available in April and from July to January.

“We are growing grapes but people are demanding avocados more,” Rueda adds. “Our estimated future production of Red Globes is 800 tonnes, and for Arra 15 it’s 1,200 tonnes.”

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