Egyptian exporters are keen to point out how they have progressed to become an important source of supply for fresh produce to the UK. But what do buyers think? We catch up with Paul Frowde, business unit director at importer Mack – one of the largest suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables to the UK – to get a buyer’s eye view
What’s your product portfolio and calendar of supply from Egypt?
Paul Frowde (PF): Our programme comprises the following:
The timing of the Egyptian season is similar to Spain and Chile, with the fruit harvested from November through to January.
Egypt has a unique table grape supply window after Indian and Chilean grapes have finished, and before the arrival of the European varieties from May to July.
For stonefruit there is also a unique market window, ahead of the Spanish crop. New season stonefruit is expected to arrive in the UK this week [week beginning March, 28] and we’ll have peaches and nectarines through until May.
These fill an important supply window before the arrival of Moroccan and Spanish fruit from November until March. Egypt has proven again this year that it can supply quality strawberries into March with reliable quantities and quality.
Which sectors of the UK marketplace does your Egyptian produce supply?
PF: We supply Egyptian produce to a selection of retailers, and occasionally to wholesale and processors.
Egypt has been maligned as a source in the past for lagging behind its European counterparts. How does it compete on price and quality, ethical and growing standards compared to these other sources?
PF: Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a huge improvement in standards in Egypt across the board. Growers have embraced all the certification schemes and invested in farm standards and technology. Vertically integrated business models are helping to drive improvements right through the chain, with much more emphasis also being placed on sustainable farming techniques and in corporate social responsibility. All this does come at a cost, but it’s the right thing to do, and there’s ultimately a much better product.
How does Mack work with its Egyptian supply base?
PF: Mack has developed a very good relationship with Egypt’s leading fruit group, PICO. Through this association we’ve been able to bring some very exciting new opportunities to market, and offer our customers the very best of what Egypt can grow.
We take a variety of products from one source and we work closely with the grower to give directions on market trends. This helps inform the volumes needed and ensures that investment is directed in the right areas, as we help select the plantations to be expanded and provide guidance on the varieties that are in demand.
Are there any stand-out performers?
PF: We were the first to market with Egyptian avocados in the UK. The product was welcomed onto shelves in part because of the proven quality and excellent reputation PICO has built with other products.
Whilst volume is currently fairly small, we are looking to grow Egyptian avocado volumes rapidly in the next two to three years, together with PICO.
What other advances has Egypt made in terms of meeting UK market needs?
PF: The start of Egyptian white grapes supply is always one of the highest profile periods in the table grape calendar. The 15-year-long strategic relationship Mack has enjoyed with grower-exporter Belco has put us in a very strong position.
This is particularly due to Belco’s pioneering techniques and continued specialism in the production of consistently high quality and excellent flavoured Early Sweet grapes. This has enabled us to guarantee our customers the right product at a time of year that’s historically notorious for low-sugar, weak fruit. The early Belco offer is complemented with another long-term partner of Mack, in the form of Medigardens.
PICO is a relative newcomer to the Mack grape offer but it brings the valuable addition of their exclusive access to Sun World varieties. These most notably enhance our overall offer with the addition of the black varieties Midnight Beauty and Sable. This is in response to a black grape market that continues to outperform the other colours, with the Egyptian season being one of the shortest seasons in the supply calendar.
PICO was the first Egyptian company to grow avocados so there is no real ‘avocado sector’ to talk of yet. The very fact that Egypt is producing avocados is a development in itself; this reflects both PICO’s forward thinking ethos and also the huge growth in the UK avocado market.
Across the board, we’re seeing more and more Egyptian products at retail now in the UK. Their products aren’t restricted to volume and value lines either – the top growers who meet the strict criteria required are able to offer top quality products into the most prestigious and high-end retailers.
This work is generating other benefits too, attracting more interest and investment from variety-development programmes, and with companies such as PICO finding justification to invest in long-term initiatives. For example, it has invested recently in a tissue-culture laboratory and in fruit nurseries with sub-contracted varieties.
How would you sum up the advantages for UK buyers in sourcing from Egypt?
PF: Egyptian produce offers high-quality products from reliable, audited sources and new, early varieties with exciting eating qualities.
Read other articles in our Sourcing Spotlight on Egypt:
UK still top of the pyramid for Egypt’s fresh produce exporters
New Egyptian alliance EGO pledges year-round direct offer for UK buyers
PICO eyes UK growth prospects for non-traditional Egyptian produce
Egypt’s Belco diversifies product basket with raspberries and garlic