As UK consumers increasingly become accustomed to the exciting flavours offered by Peruvian gastronomy, Produce Business UK takes a look at what’s coming up next from the South American fresh produce giant
Demand for fresh products and ingredients from Peru has never been stronger, partly due to interest in Peruvian cuisine rising rapidly and a number of high quality Peruvian restaurants opening in London alone in the past two years — including Lima, Ceviche, Coya, Andina and Chotto Matte.
What’s more, in the next five years Peru plans to triple its fresh fruit and vegetable production to three million tonnes and raise the value of its exports to US$4.4 billion (£3 billion) on the back of huge irrigation projects and organic growth on the part of several Peruvian fresh produce companies.
The major volume expansion is set to come from maturing export sectors such as table grapes and Hass avocados, as well as the anticipated development of a new generation of products with worldwide potential like blueberries and pomegranates, as well as other less well-known Peruvian-grown products like passion fruit, granadilla, lúcuma, cherimoya, prickly pear (also known as cactus fig), golden berries (or physalis) and chillies.
Added to that is an exciting range of highly nutritious Peruvian superfoods now coming on stream, such as quinoa, maca (Peruvian ginseng), cat’s claw, camu camu and sacha inchi, all of which are produced organically and sourced from growers and indigenous communities located in the central highlands and Amazon of the South American country.
“Good things are happening in Peru,” says Jaime Cárdenas, UK director at the Peruvian Embassy’s Trade and Investment Office in the UK, adding that Peru’s growing stature was recognised recently by its election to lead the Southern Hemisphere Association of Fresh Fruit Exporters (SHAFFE) for the next two years, with Sergio del Castillo, director of the Association of Peruvian Agrarian Producers Guilds (Agap) and general manager of the Peruvian Citrus Producers’ Association (Procitrus), chosen as its new president.
“There are success stories every day and we’re optimistic for the future,” Cárdenas continues. “The spread of new Peruvian restaurants opening abroad has raised the profile of our food exports and created demand for the ingredients we can supply, many of which are exclusive to our country.”
That sentiment is echoed by Rob Cullum, managing director of UK importer-distributor Pacific Produce, which was set up as the marketing arm of Peruvian citrus specialist La Calera and has since added a handful of South American suppliers to its portfolio, including Talsa, Torre Blanca and Frutas Piuranas from Peru.
“Slowly, slowly Peruvian cuisine is making its way to the UK,” Cullum tells Produce Business UK. “Maybe it’ll be the next sushi! It will serve as the wave that brings in the next line of exotics. There are certain potatoes, limes (Sutil) and chillies (rocoto) that are native to Peru, for example.”
Cárdenas claims Peru’s solid supply reputation stands the nation in good stead for future opportunities in the UK. “We have positioned ourselves as something new with medium-high to high quality,” he notes. “We’re very keen on the UK market and we’re paying a lot of attention to the trends, such as the demands for environmental and social sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR).”
Cullum agrees: “In everything Peru has touched the nation has rapidly become a global leader in volume and quality,” he says. “It’s thanks to government investment in agriculture, the efficiency of the big farms and the climate – it makes Peru a quick-to-market country. Also, most Peruvian suppliers were also already complying with various ethical and environmental responsibility demands before they were even asked to prove it.”
Nevertheless, Cullum admits the UK is still one of the toughest markets to supply because the technical, ethical, quality and packaging standards are so high, and each retailer has its own certification process, which is costly. “The UK used to pay a premium for both the extra certification and the quality and size standards, however we are increasingly finding that the UK is returning lower prices,” he says.
Although that scenario might prompt some suppliers to jump to other markets, Cullum is confident the UK can rely on Peru. “Peru is pretty loyal to its markets,” he explains. “Most [grower-exporter] companies are very big, so if you make a programme you tend to get it. Besides, Peru will always want to keep a place in the UK.”
As consumption grows worldwide Cullum says there are still opportunities in the UK for increased arrivals from Peru as well as elsewhere. “With the majority of our varieties [at Pacific Produce], we are undersupplied,” he states. “There’s still demand and there are still opportunities in the whole world, including the UK.”
What’s more, Peru’s reliability makes it an attractive source for UK buyers. “We get a lot of customers – retailers, wholesalers etc – asking us to plant certain products in Peru because they see Peru as a reliable and quality supplier. But, of course, not every product works [in Peru].”
With Peru resembling South Africa in its ability to produce a diverse product range, Cullum sees a bright future for the Andean nation. “Peru is very good at a lot of products and the country is long so there are various seasons,” he explains.
Product-wise, Peru’s avocado supply is on course to rise by 30-40% this year, while the blueberry sector expects to triple its own export crop. Last year alone, Peru’s blueberry exports jumped to 3,400 tonnes, up from 1,800 tonnes in 2013, and sales value during the same period rose by 60% to US$28 million (£18.8 million).
“In two to three years’ time our blueberry exports will be higher than our current two leading produce exports items – avocados and table grapes,” forecasts Ana María Deustua, executive director of Agap.
“The UK is a main market for us in Europe, especially for mandarins, avocados and table grapes,” explains Deustua. “We’re very keen to develop the market for this blueberry offer that’s just started.”
Camposol, Peru’s biggest blueberry producer and indeed Peru’s largest agricultural exporter, has already indicated it plans to become one of the largest blueberry suppliers to the UK and Europe, following on from its success with avocados. The firm has begun to directly supply blueberries to several supermarket chains in the UK, focusing on the window up to November before Argentinian and Chilean blueberries arrive.
“Camposol is extremely excited about the prospects for blueberries in the UK and Europe,” states Camposol’s chief commercial officer, José Antonio Gómez, who was recently elected to join the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Global Development Committee as a thought leader for the industry’s future strategies.
“We have seen tremendous growth in this category within these markets already, and we believe there is great potential for further expansion, so this fruit is a very important focus for us,” Gómez says.
Cullum also believes Peruvian blueberries have a window of opportunity in the UK since supplies can begin “before anyone else” in the southern hemisphere. “Peru takes over the whole season window from August and can go through to the end of March, if needed,” he claims. “Theoretically, you could do a whole season from one source [with Peru].”
However, the key will be for Peru to develop the right varieties to guarantee a consistent offer, according to Cullum. “You need a consistently good eating quality blueberry,” he explains. “[For that], you need the right variety in the right country. Peru is testing a lot of varieties and it’s working pretty well. I think they’ll learn more and get better – they are already close and we’ll get it right with blueberries in Peru.”
Cullum is quick to point out that the blueberry category as a whole is still at the beginning of its journey in terms of varietal and flavour development. “It was the same with strawberries in the pre-2000s when the fruit wasn’t consistent, whereas now they all taste very nice,” he says. “Raspberries are proving to be increasingly consistent too.”
According to Agap, Camposol will expand its blueberry plantings to 1,400ha next year after already raising acreage to 1,000ha, up from an initial 400ha. Talsa, Peru’s other major blueberry grower, will also raise its production to 1,000ha, while a further eight to 10 companies are producing the fruit in smaller volumes.
Fernando Beltrán Molina, general manager of Terra Business, goes as far as to say that Peru could have 7,000ha of blueberries under production in the next seven years but warns that expansion must be carefully managed. “The growth has to be consistent and in line with access to better genetics, which are developed over time,” Molina suggests.
To coordinate the burgeoning business, Agap has established a new producer organisation for blueberries, called ProArándanos, which is presided over by Miguel Bentín, general manager of Valle y Pampa, a fellow Peruvian supplier of asparagus, blueberries and pomegranates.
Another interesting and emerging export item from Peru is pomegranates, for which another grower group – ProGranadas – has also been set up under the guise of Sandro Farfán, who also runs ProVid, Peru’s table grape producer body.
“Peru already exports pomegranates to the UK and we’re paying full attention to the market,” Deustua says. “But currently our most important market is Russia which is growing by US$10 million (£6.7 million) a year.”
She adds that there are a number of Peruvian firms offering pomegranates, including Valle y Pampa, Athos, La Calera (which exports a decent volume to the UK), and Agrokasa. This year, Valle y Pampa will double its pomegranate exports to 1,500 tonnes to markets including the UK, according to Bentín, who manages 51ha of the Wonderful variety in Pisco, Ica.
Sizing, however, may present a slight complication for the UK market going forward, according to Cullum at Pacific Produce, which handles a reasonable volume of Peruvian pomegranates from La Calera and Valle y Pampa.
“The problem for the UK is we want a selection of small sizes, so you need to be a big grower to fill containers with small fruit,” he explains. “That makes it difficult for the UK to compete with most other countries that will take a range of sizes. Only the bigger farms can make the UK work efficiently with the sizing restrictions. But as the volumes grow this problem will decrease.”
With plenty of pomegranates coming from the southern hemisphere as a whole, Cullum says this volume makes the situation even more complicated. “Everyone has jumped on the pomegranate bandwagon in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa but it’s a niche product,” he notes. “So, pomegranates will probably go from being in market demand to a year when there’s too much. But it’s a mega healthy fruit and that’s keeping supply alive.”
Peru’s fresh produce exports to the UK are rising annually and the industry is eager to continue growing its presence in its traditional market as this volume grows and new product lines are added.
According to figures from Agap, agricultural exports from Peru to the UK, excluding coffee, rose from US$183 million (£122 million) in 2013 to US$199 million (£132 million) in 2014, an increase of 8.7%. This year, shipments are anticipated to grow at the same rate.
“In 2014, Peru’s produce exports up to September were 10% higher than during the same period in the previous year,” says Cárdenas. “Asparagus – the main export item – dropped 14% but avocados – the second-largest product – grew and pomegranates are increasing. Blueberry volume also went from 171 tonnes to 286 tonnes.”
Regardless of the opportunities presented by Peru’s produce expansion, however, Cárdenas says the anticipated three-fold in production brings with it certain challenges and responsibilities the country will need to address. “We’ll have huge crops levels at certain times of the year and we don’t want to flood the market – we also need the infrastructure in order to export a lot more,” he states.