After testing the waters with trial shipments in 2017, Indian shipper Kay Bee Exports is set to bolster its presence in the US pomegranate market starting in April next year.
CEO Kaushal Khakar tells PBUK the company was able to send small volumes to the country via air freight between April and June, dealing with East Coast customers that are already involved in Kay Bee’s mango deal.
“We always look forward to opportunities in the US market – we were the only company to ship Indian pomegranates to the US this summer; we sent them irradiated by air but we are actually looking by sea freight as well,” Khakar says.
“The Indian variety (Bhagwa) was pretty well accepted in the small quantities that we shipped – the fruit quality was good, the internal eating quality was soft and sweet, so hence it was a very preferred variety for arils but also for fresh.
“We want to target the mainstream market and see how we can gear up for their expectations. India is an annual supply business so it should be a good opportunity for us to grow the US market.”
The starting period for exports to the United States actually coincides with the tail end of India’s pomegranate peak export volume window between January and April.
“Those months all are the months when Europe starts taking Indian pomegranate in a big way; it’s not just about a few sporadic customers but everybody.
“Indian pomegranates – especially in winter – are of very high quality and hence they run along with the other origins.”
So why does the United States programme go against the grain of everywhere else?
“A USDA inspector comes to India for the pre-clearance. The inspector right now is largely targeted for the mango season which is in April-May-June, which is also when we get opportunities to try out pomegranates,” Khakar explains.
“Maybe in the future if business grows we can call in an inspector early,” he says, emphasising the desire would be to send fruit starting in January.”
Finding a preference for Bhagwa
As Indian pomegranate production is year-round, Khakar says export windows depend more on price viability and demand than the seasons.
“The Indian variety is very different in terms of flavour and eating quality and it has managed to get good acceptance in many countries, in spite of other cheaper varieties being available,” Khakar says.
“So we have not stopped exports even for a week – we have been shipping continuously and will continue to ship continuously throughout the year,” he says, adding markets that have been showing a greater preference include the Middle East, Iran, Southeast Asia, the UK and the Netherlands.
“There are some countries where the Indian variety is very well-known and it’s the preferred one over the South American ones,” he says.
“But certainly there are countries which are not as yet convinced about the Indian variety’s superiority – they will generally ship from the other origins and come back to India when those finish.”
He says interestingly there is a big gap in international pomegranate markets during summer.
“There are very few origins available and whatever is available is old stock from cold rooms so India is the only country in the month of June and July which is harvesting fresh crop; everybody else is just selling from storage, that’s my understanding.
“Having said that, the volumes shipped out of India during these months are still low, because a lot of summer fruit options are available; not within pomegranates but just berries and summerfruit, so that’s why the overall demand for pomegranates is low in these months.”
The executive adds the fruit currently being harvested is a bit smaller than usual.
“We had very good early season rains but very poor mid-season rains, so the two impacts of this will be known only after a few months.
“Whatever fruit is harvesting now, which is basically the fruit that underwent all the weather challenges of the last six months, what we have found is the size of the fruit is fairly small. The same time last year we could have sourced much larger-sized fruit but this year the sizes are restricted.”
With a dedicated, BRC-accredited facility, he adds Kay Bee has seen uninterrupted growth in its pomegranate aril business, which continues to be an “interesting space to be in”.
“Fresh pomegranate is far more prone to demand-supply challenges in the market, but not arils,” he says.
“Arils have a fixed price and there are customers, especially regarding juicers and such, that have quite a stable business. Those continue to be good growth options for us.”