A large marketplace such as the UK, with its diversity of retail outlets, increasingly exotic tastes and a flourishing restaurant trade presents myriad opportunities for fresh fruit and veg senders from Peru. Produce Business UK assesses the different routes to an exciting market for growers in the Andean nation
Peru has a flourishing portfolio of product lines that have seen its export offer expand beyond being a major source of asparagus to encompass citrus, avocados, grapes, mangoes and blueberries.
Quick to realise the Peruvian potential in 2011 was UK firm Pacific Produce, which started with a brief to bring all of grower-exporter La Calera’s produce to the European market. The UK company has grown rapidly since then and diversification means that now just 35% of the produce it handles comes from La Calera. The remainder is procured from other growers and exporters in Peru and from other Latin sources.
“We are very Latin-America focused,” explains Rob Cullum, Pacific Produce managing director. “Some 90% of all our produce is from Latin America. Having an office in the UK, we divide this market into segments – the supermarket retail trade is about 60% of our business and the balance is wholesale, catering and processing.”
However, he admits that supplying these market segments “is not for the faint-hearted” since different “rules” apply in each one. “They each require a different skill set,” says Cullum, adding that in his opinion, it would be “very difficult to supply directly from abroad”.
One requirement for the UK wholesale scene that is not such a big deal in other buying sectors is brands. At a wholesale level, Pacific Produce is well known for marketing La Calera’s soft-citrus brand Gold Cup, which has since expanded onto the packaging of other citrus lines such as limes, as well as avocados, mangoes, grapes, butternut squash, blueberries and sweet potatoes.
“About 30% of our business is on the wholesale markets and we have taken the decision to commit to wholesale,” explains Cullum. “I have a team at Pacific Produce dedicated to wholesale and we are on every single market in the UK with over 100 clients. It is an investment for us and not something we are just cherry-picking.”
Despite its nuances, Cullum claims supplying the foodservice and catering market is not that different from serving its supermarket business in that customers require similarly high standards, large volumes and consistency.
“But it is not a business that is particularly focused on source, as our customers need to meet menu requirements,” says Cullum. “Caterers go directly to UK growers, but on import lines the best channel is through a specialist importer; the rewards do not warrant chasing the end client from source.”
UK importer Greencell has brought in Peruvian avocados for some 20 years. Today, 95% of the volumes of the fruit it handles are for the UK retail trade. “We have a healthy mix of retail customers,” explains Graham Isaac, head of retail at Greencell.
The company works with a range of different exporters and growers of varying sizes in Peru in order to meet what it sees as a growing market in the UK. “It works very well for us,”explains Isaac. “It means if one particular growing area is struggling with supplies, we can balance that out with product from another area thanks to the breadth of our grower base in Peru.”
Greencell’s product is sea-freighted into the UK via the Panama Canal and ripened at the company’s facility in Spalding. To meet the growing avocado demand, Isaac says the company is looking beyond Hass to varieties with green, thin skins. “Because the market is growing, we need to look at alternatives and [towards] marketing the whole crop,” he explains. “The biggest usage is consumers buying through the retailers, but there is growth for Peruvian fruit in all areas such as foodservice and [the processing trade for products like] oils.”
Worldwide Fruit also has built a strong foundation with avocados from Peru and while the majority of its business is with retailers, the importer-ripener reports fast-growing interest from other sectors of the market.
“Every week, I get new enquiries from people asking for fresh avocados,” says business unit manager for avocados Mark Everett. The interest is coming not just from suppliers to Mexican-food restaurant chains making fresh guacamole, but pizza outlets, chicken chain Nando’s and lunchtime takeaway and sandwich specialist Pret A Manger, for example.
And this uptake from the foodservice segment of the market is mirrored in wholesale too, where Everett reports a burgeoning business in supplying premium ripened Hass.
“The demand is there for consistency now,” he says, adding that much of this supply finds its way not just to high-quality independent retailers but also into catering and foodservice, with many chefs of individual restaurants ordering directly from a trader on a wholesale market or secondary wholesaler.
Wholesale is a sector in which Total Produce has become the UK’s dominant player. Using asparagus as an example, imports arrive from Peru via Total Worldfresh, the group’s UK procurement and retail division. Its customers include Total Produce’s own wholesale outlets nationwide.
“A lot of our produce on the wholesale market goes to independent, high-end retailers and also to catering suppliers,” says Nick Matthews, who is regional director at Total Produce and oversees seven wholesale depots across the Midlands and south of England.
“These customers might require different sizes, to [those required by] the multiple retailers, but they demand quality and consistency and their specifications are very similar to the major multiples.”
Matthews is upbeat about the prospects for Peru’s asparagus given its superfood status and an increasingly health-conscious UK population. As with avocados, the product’s attributes mean it is sought after by all sections of the marketplace, not just restaurant chefs.
“It’s a quick and easy product to prepare,” says Matthews, adding that this makes it a popular choice as a retail purchase to be cooked at home, as well as among foodservice operators for freshly prepared dishes.
Know your market
Back at source, says Cullum, it’s important to remember that not all products can be all things to all men. “The eating-out market is irrelevant for easy-peelers, for example,” he says. “It is a snack item, not a restaurant item and the same goes for grapes.”
Whereas other lines have specific processing uses – juicing oranges being a case in point –machinery is set up to take certain sizes; meaning an oversupply to retailers or wholesale markets of other orange varieties will not necessarily be welcomed by juicers.
As Cullum concludes: “You have to know your crop, and understand who is your end consumer”.
Read other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Peru:
Watch these videos about Peru: