An emerging source of citrus to the UK and Europe over the last decade, Peru claims importers now consider the country to be on a par with South Africa – the region’s leading supplier. As the stakes rise, Produce Business UK finds out how Peru’s citrus sector aims to retain its position by differentiating its offer with a recently launched quality standard and plans for new varieties
Between 2010 and 2015 total Peruvian citrus exports (comprising minneolas, mandarins, oranges, limes and grapefruit) rose by nearly 70% from 68,199 tonnes to 113,427t, according to figures from the Peruvian Citrus Growers Association (ProCitrus), which represents the vast majority (85%) of the country’s citrus exports. Mandarins and minneolas held the biggest share of the pie by far, accounting for 71,321t and 29,205t respectively in 2014.
Currently, the UK ranks as the second-largest destination for Peruvian citrus (absorbing 25% of exports), while the leading market is the US, which took over the top spot last year by two percentage points to reach a 27% share. The remainder is shipped to the Netherlands (for cross-European consumption), Canada, Russia and other countries.
“The UK is very important for Peruvian citrus – it’s basically our market for early fruit,” explains Sergio del Castillo, the general manager of ProCitrus. “Consumption is very high and it’s a destination with high prices. With the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound better than the dollar vs the euro more suppliers will be keen to push more volume to the UK.”
The UK and the US are the two markets where ProCitrus plans to be “very aggressive” in the coming years, says del Castillo. But with high prices early in the season attracting so many suppliers, controlling the internal fruit quality has become an issue.
New standard guarantees quality
To that end, the Peru Citrus Quality Board operating within ProCitrus last year trialled a Peru Citrus Quality Seal on minneolas from six of its member exporters to ensure high quality standards were met and to differentiate the association’s supply from the 15% of Peruvian suppliers that aren’t members.
Following a positive response from the market, the seal has been rolled out among all ProCitrus members and covers both their minneola and Nadorcott supplies. Next year, it will be expanded to include all varieties, including satsumas.
The focus on quality, says del Castillo, is crucial to safeguarding Peru’s reputation as a consistent and reliable supplier, satisfying buyers’ requirements and building the long-term relationships that are vital to the longevity of the country’s citrus industry.
“Peruvian citrus has gained an international standing for its great taste and exceptional quality and the seal will help us protect this, for the benefit of growers, importers, supermarkets, and, ultimately, consumers,” he points out.
“There are different countries participating in the market during the same season [as Peru]. South Africa, Chile and Uruguay all have good fruit. We have to show that Peru is taking steps to assure and improve its quality too.
“The only way you can build loyalty is to offer customers a very good quality product. Customers are more demanding and quality is the main aspect that they want. In the past, a lot of people were concerned about the aesthetics – whether the product looked beautiful. Now, the fruit has to look good, but it also has to taste good.
“We’re trying to say to the market that we [ProCitrus] are a very responsible group of growers and packers. We work very hard in terms of the quality of our fruit. We wanted to develop a complete brand with a quality seal as a way to differentiate ourselves.”
Del Castillo describes the Peru Citrus Quality Seal as a guarantee of overall quality for citrus exports that already comply with certifications that include GlobalGAP, USgap, Tesco Nature’s Choice, BRC, SQF2000 HACCP and ETI. It’s denoted by a ‘Peru Citrus Quality Certified for Export’ logo on each carton of fruit.
To use the seal, exporters have to comply with three internal quality parameters – a minimum brix (sweetness), acidity level and maturity index. For Nadorcott suppliers, they also have to adhere to an additional colour parameter, which is not a concern for minneolas.
A private, third-party company carries out the auditing of each lot at every packing house to determine whether those requirements have been satisfied before a consignment can leave with the Peru Citrus Quality Certified for Export stamp.
“The seal basically guarantees quality for the customer – they know what to expect,” says del Castillo. “We’ve held a lot of discussions with supermarket category managers to determine their appreciation of quality. We know the quality standards that customers want, so this way it ensures buyers will get a high quality product both internally and externally – a product that consumers will want to eat.”
With Peru’s growing international reputation for citrus that demonstrates consistently excellent taste, fragrance, rind quality and shelf life; as well as the right balance of brix and acidity; and percentage of juice, del Castillo says the industry has a lot to thank its climate for too.
“Citrus is a sub-tropical fruit but we grow citrus in a dry tropical area because of the special climate on the central coast of Peru where there’s no rainfall all year round,” he explains. “We don’t have problems with frost or wind either. This gives Peru the opportunity to produce fruit with very high quality standards, and be very reliable.”
Growing the UK market with new varieties
Procitrus estimates that its members’ exports to the UK have risen from 17,016t to 32,162t between 2010 and 2014. Satsumas and mandarins are the biggest sellers, accounting for 12,670t and 11,216t respectively in 2014.
Acting as “a thermometer” for exports, del Castillo says that ProCitrus and its members monitor carefully the UK for new trends and requirements. Going forward, Peru needs to develop the right varieties to offer buyers, he admits.
“We’ve reached a roof with satsumas and minneolas,” he explains. “We need new mid-season and late season varieties. We’re aware that other citrus supplying countries – our competitors – are offering new varieties and we need to do the same. These are issues that we’re addressing now.”
Del Castillo reports that new varieties are already in the pipeline and will come on stream in the coming years. Various cultivars are being trialled such as Californian seedless mandarin varieties like Tango and Shasta, as well as South African varieties including African Sunset and Mandalate.
La Calera, a leading citrus grower-exporter in Peru with close to 2,000ha, is just one ProCitrus member company which has several new varieties under trial. “Tango, which is a seedless version of a Nadorcott – is a smashing variety for the later part of the year,” explains the firm’s Estuardo Masias. “It has actually overshadowed other varieties coming through.”
Masias says his company has been growing well in citrus and continues to buy new groves for its production of tangerines, clementines, satsumas and Nadorcotts. For the UK, he claims demand is very strong for satsumas and Nadorcotts in particular.
“In the UK, we sell to the major multiples, as well as supermarkets in Ireland,” he comments. “We’re planting more Nadorcotts. Within that category, the Orri variety from Israel is beautiful – it’s been a big success commercially – so, we’ve planted quite a bit. La Calera is one of the only growers of Orri in Peru. We’re very excited by it and its prospects.”
Del Castillo says there are five or six new varieties which appear promising but results will need to be evaluated first to be sure whether they are appropriate. “In the past, we’ve had problems with new clementines and our humid weather,” he says. “But we’ve learnt from our mistakes and this time we will have good rootstocks too.”
Although Peru clearly has a lot of experience with its current varieties, del Castillo admits that the new varieties are all different and have unique requirements. A pool of exporters from Peru as well as abroad has therefore been brought together to guide the management.
“It’s a learning process that takes a few years,” he points out. “But we’ve been working on it for three or four years already. The material is planted and in a couple of years we’ll find out how they’re performing. Then ProCitrus will help its producer members to make the right decisions in terms of their re-planting strategies for the following years.”
This season (2015), ProCitrus there will be slightly less volume of early varieties following a high-yielding year in 2013/14, meaning overall UK supply may come in around 25,000t, out of a total 110,000-115,000t forecast for worldwide markets.
Peru exports a full range of soft citrus, including mandarins, satsumas, clementines, Nadorcotts and minneolas, as well as (albeit on a small scale) oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.
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