Guatemalan suppliers are looking beyond their large, near neighbour to the north for alternative export markets that appreciate their commitment and the quality of their products. Produce Business UK caught up with one of them – Agrícola Tierra Nueva – on a recent trade mission to London, organised by Tradex International, to find out more
Nestled in the Sacatepéquez area of rural western Guatemala, Agrícola Tierra Nueva (ATN) has been growing and exporting vegetables since it established its first commercial relationships in the US nearly 16 years ago.
Now sales representative Luis Socop is looking further afield. To that end, he has helped the company gain the necessary certifications to make its mark on the European fresh produce scene.
“As far as other export markets go, we are principally interested in the UK,” he explains. “We have seen from our participation at the London Produce Show last year that the UK market is very focused on quality and there is also more interest in our products, the prices we can offer and a greater acceptance of Guatemala as a source.
The main lines that ATN supplies are mangetout, sugarsnap and fine beans and the firm produces half of the volume it exports itself, with the other half grown by small producers.
“I think our soils and climate set us apart,” says Socop. “We are dependent on the climate and have high-quality loamy soils that maintain their humidity, plus we use irrigation very little, which helps us keep our costs lower.”
All of Tierra Nueva’s products are packed at the company’s own packhouse, mainly in 4.54 kilogramme (kg), 2.26kg bulk packs as well as 150 gram (g) and 300g punnets, plus 8oz bags for the US market.
“We are able to deliver up to five fully-loaded 40ft containers per week, and we work with sea and air freight,” says Socop.
Freight to the UK is delivered by air on direct flights to Heathrow or via Mexico, and ATN is keen to supply not just retail clients, but foodservice operators too.
“We have strong expectations; we made some good contacts at London Produce Show and at Fruit Logistica,” he says. “We can produce year round whereas other suppliers of the same products from other sources can only supply from October to March.”
Focus on export
In contrast to other up-and-coming Latin American sources that are exporting the products popular in their native cuisine such as avocados from Peru or plantains from Ecuador, Tierra Nueva’s core lines are destined only for export and are unknown in traditional Guatemalan cooking.
Nevertheless, there is a national organisation for legumes exporters – the Snow Pea & Vegetables Committee of AgExport, (Guatemala’s exporters’ association) – which serves as a vehicle for the sharing of information among exporters, as well as promoting compliance and best practice, the implementation of quality-management systems, technology transfer, agricultural research and trade promotion at national and international level.
Tierra Nueva takes corporate social responsibility very seriously too. “As a part of our internal social policy, we do our best to develop and encourage all the people who work with us; from the fields to the export operation,” says Socop.
“We work together with our farmers in the field, giving them the tools they need such as training and inputs to be able to grow safe crops with high quality.”
The company also believes in female empowerment that extends beyond the workplace. Its packhouse workforce is almost 95% female, says Socop. “We give them more than training and food safety rules, we give knowledge that helps them in their own homes.”