The UK has raised its game in terms of the quality and diversity of the fresh fruits and vegetables it offers at retail, wholesale and foodservice levels. Buyers are now starting to take advantage of what Ecuador has to offer as a fresh produce supplier, but there is still a long way to go. Francisco Mena, ProEcuador’s UK trade commissioner, talks to Produce Business UK about how Ecuador aims to set itself apart in the UK market as a premium quality supplier
Bananas are the world’s favourite fruit and Ecuador is the largest exporter. As for UK arrivals, the latest figures from ProEcuador show that three-quarters of the way through 2015 exports to this market were running 40% higher than the previous year in terms of both volume and value.
Indeed, a concerted effort by Ecuador to move away from reliance on too few markets – following the salutary lesson learned due to the Russian market ban – has given rise to opportunities for other destinations, and the UK is benefiting.
But bananas are not the only fruit Ecuador has to offer. With that in mind, Mena and his team at ProEcuador UK are working hard to tempt importers to seriously consider the rest of the Andean nation’s fresh produce range.
“We organise business roundtable events to get [Ecuadorian] exporters and [foreign] importers together,” he explains. “We have brought Ecuadorian exporters to the UK, as well as organised trade missions to take UK importers out to Ecuador so they can see the plantations for themselves. This is something that ProEcuador’s offices are doing all over the world, not just in the UK.”
Wider tropical offer
The Ecuadorian products that are enjoying an uplift in interest in the UK are pineapples, dragonfruit, physalis and mangoes. Ecuador is promoting these tropicals and exotics not just to the trade but to consumers, food media, bloggers and retailers via activities that will be ramped up during the week-long Exquisite Ecuador campaign in London this autumn.
The 2015 edition of that initiative featured consumer tasting events in Soho, a culinary workshop for the food press in the City and a retail wine, chocolate and coffee gourmet evening.
“The real purpose of Exquisite Ecuador is to help the UK get to know the quality of Ecuador’s ingredients,” notes Mena. “So, for example, if a chef in an Indian restaurant wants to make a prawn curry, we want them to seek out Ecuadorian prawns because they know they offer the best quality.”
The next step for ProEcuador UK will be to declare that provenance on restaurant menus in the same way UK consumers have become accustomed to the marketing of local and regionally sourced British ingredients.
Quality from source
Mena says Ecuador’s geographical location on the Equator means a greater intensity of the sun’s rays enhance the photosynthesis of its crops, while product quality is further boosted by the country’s rich volcanic soils that are high in organic matter.
Looking ahead, Mena reveals the next goal for ProEcuador UK is to encourage gastronomic tourism to the South American country so travellers can enjoy the culinary delights of Ecuador in the unique environment of a nation that is able to produce such high quality.
“There are lots of steps to take before we get to this stage, but it is something we are working on,” he concludes.
Read other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Ecuador: