Peru pushes boundaries of agricultural offer to attract more UK buyers
ExpoPeru came to London last month to put buyers in touch with suppliers

Peru pushes boundaries of agricultural offer to attract more UK buyers

Gill McShane
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Jaime Cardenas director of the Peruvian Trade and Investment Office in the UK
Jaime Cardenas, director of the Peruvian Trade and Investment Office in the UK

Peru has the potential to significantly expand its export offer of fresh, dried, frozen and processed agricultural products and ingredients. So last month the Peruvian Trade and Investment Office in the UK held a bespoke trade fair in London to showcase to UK buyers this growing range of fresh fruits, niche products, superfoods and dried exotics. What follows is Produce Business UK’s round-up of the new product developments of note for UK buyers

Organised annually by the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, ExpoPeru came to the UK for the first time on March 16-17 to put 150 UK and European buyers in touch with Peruvian suppliers of high quality foods and textiles.

Thanks to the South American nation’s biological diversity and numerous ecosystems, coupled with the progressive introduction of technology and innovative production and processing methods, the future for the Peruvian agriculture sector in the UK looks ‘brilliant’, says Jaime Cardenas, director of the Peruvian Trade and Investment Office in the UK.

“It’s just a matter of developing the ranges together with the buyers,” Cardenas tells PBUK. “The plan is to keep growing in the UK – and the figures show that’s happening already. But we want to push the boundaries. We’re already big with fresh produce and we have more to offer, including processed items, grains and superfoods. We’re trying to push the new suppliers and introduce the rising stars of these sectors who could be interesting for UK buyers.” 

623 species of fruit

553 native species of fruit

3,000+ varieties of potato

In addition to Peru’s traditional table grape and citrus supply, the country has a growing repertoire that includes blueberries, Hass and Fuerte avocados, pomegranates and native garlic, in addition to dried exotic fruits and superfoods such as goldenberries (physalis), camu camu, maca and lucuma, plus grains including quinoa, amaranth and chia seeds.

“We’re trying to expand,” comments Cardenas. “We’re using Peru’s well-known name for fresh produce to expand the range in the UK and add superfoods, grains, processed and semi-processed ingredients.

“These all have huge potential in the UK and there are Peruvian suppliers that are looking for new opportunities. We know many UK buyers but we want to know more retailers, importers, distributors, independents and start-ups from all across the purchasing chain.”

White Lion Foods – garlic & Brazil nuts

British entrepreneur and general manager of White Lion Foods Gregory Vickers says he has a premium garlic to offer UK buyers that has already piqued the interest of a Spitalfields wholesaler and a supplier to Tesco.

Already exporting 1,000 tonnes to Mexico and Brazil and after adding France to his supply list last year, Vickers is looking to diversify in Europe and access the UK where he sees a strong market for both garlic and niche products.

“We have something different to offer compared with other garlic suppliers like Spain or China, and British people aren’t against trying something new either,” Vickers says. “The UK is a secure market that isn’t volatile. The key is getting in. Plus by meeting UK standards you are setting yourself up for supplying everywhere else in the world.” 

White Lion’s garlic is a native variety that grows in volcanic soil on the side of a mountain at 3,000m above sea level in Arequipa. Vickers explains that this results in a very purple garlic. Originally, the variety was probably introduced from China but since then he says it’s been cross-bred, meaning its genetic makeup has changed over the years.

“The higher you plant, the more purple the garlic becomes – the skin is almost black,” he notes. “Our garlic is harvested by hand, which makes it an artisanal product. It’s a premium product because of its unique appearance, colour and quality. It’s something different both visually and in the way it tastes. It’s pretty fiery – the flavour is quite strong and spicy. The paper skin is pretty thick too.”

The only complication now is the question of how to produce more of the garlic. This year Vickers hopes to supply 2,000t, after expanding planted area by 45-50% to 80ha.

“Every year we’re looking to grow 50% by supplementing our crop with garlic from other growers,” Vickers notes. “It’s a crop that needs rotating after a couple of years and the seed it a garlic clove itself, so if we want to plant more we’d have to sell less that year.

“Currently we rent the land but in the future we may buy our own land and rotate it with another crop. For now though we’re focusing on garlic to learn more about how to grow and ship a quality product.”

Gregory Vickers_White Lion Foods Peru
Gregory Vickers

Last year White Lion introduced Brazil nuts as a secondary product that Vickers is sourcing from the Peruvian Amazon. “We’re looking for UK buyers but mainly wholesalers and distributors who want bulk supplies, rather than the supermarkets,” he reveals.

“It combines well with our garlic container exports as we can do a cyclical offer of garlic for six months, followed by Brazil nuts for six months.”

White Lion will ship five to six bulk loads of Brazil nuts this year. The product is completely organic and sustainable, according to Vickers. “You can only source Brazil nuts from Brazil, Peru and Bolivia,” he explains. “It helps the locals a lot as the income gives back to the communities, who whilst making a living can protect the jungles in and around where they live.”

Talsa – blueberries

Fernando Ascenzo, commercial manager of Trujillo-based grower-packer-exporter Talsa, claims the firm will have an “explosive” offer of blueberries to offer UK retailers, as well as wholesalers and foodservice operators in the years to come, including different varieties.

“We’re already growing pretty fast in the UK; working with [importer] Pacific Produce who is coordinating some programmes with different UK supermarkets,” Ascenzo reveals. “We’re supplying Asda and Aldi and we hope to introduce others soon. Through the importers we want to supply the top five retailers ultimately.”

Talsa’s main UK growth will come from blueberries, plus some avocados. The company already has 750ha of blueberries in production and a major planting project in the pipeline. “We see a lot of potential in the UK for blueberries,” says Ascenzo. “It’s a health product, it’s ideal for snacking and kids love them too.” 

While consolidating and growing its programmes with existing customers, Talsa is also eager to find new UK buyers for its blueberries, in particular. “We’re always looking for new opportunities,” points out Ascenzo.

“Through Pacific Produce we’re assessing the foodservice sector and wholesale market too. It’s on our mind and it will come with our volume growth. We don’t want to rush as we want long-term customers. This is so important in this type of business because our crops are long-term [investments].”

Fernando Ascenzo_Talsa Peru
Fernando Ascenzo

Talsa, which belongs to Peru’s agro-industrial Rocio Group, started 26 years ago with white asparagus before introducing Hass avocados a decade ago, and blueberries just three years ago.

Looking ahead, Ascenzo believes Talsa will shortly be able to offer the UK different varieties of blueberries. “We’re trying four to five different varieties; looking for the best for Peru’s growing conditions,” he reveals.

“It’s trial and error at the moment. We are learning every year and we need to learn fast as we’re growing very fast. We have good partners in Chile too. We are growers as well as exporters and that’s our strength as a supplier.”

CWT Group – avocados & pomegranates

Present on the UK market for eight years already – selling to Total Produce and Pacific ProduceCWT Group claims the firm has the capacity to continue growing with the two importers and supply the UK market beyond that.

With that in mind, commercial director Oscar Balbi Gatjens tells PBUK that CWT is looking for a UK partner to develop a joint venture that can handle bigger volumes of its avocados and pomegranates, in particular.

Oscar Balbi Gatjens_CWT Group Peru​Oscar Balbi Gatjens

“We’ve already developed Europe and we’ve been very focused on the continent, so now we need to look at the UK,” Balbi explains. “It’s a very good market; it wants quality but it pays very well so the returns are quite attractive for growers.”

CWT has the lofty ambition of becoming the number one importer of Peruvian produce in the UK – a feat it claims to have achieved in Thailand. “We either want to find a partner in the UK with whom to establish a joint venture for our fresh fruit and seafood, or develop our own import company using our successful model from other markets,” Balbi tells PBUK.

“We want a partner to share the UK business with us; to profit with us. We’re focused on developing long-term relationships with a win-win for all. The partner could be a 15-year-old importer with loads of experience or a new buyer with nothing. Who knows! It depends on what they can bring to the table and whether the fit feels right.”

The 100% Peruvian-owned capital company operates its own import businesses in China, Thailand and Russia, among other countries. As such, Balbi says CWT is not afraid to go it alone in the UK.

Operating across the whole supply chain as a grower, packer, trader and importer, CWT is looking to sell to the UK retail, wholesale or foodservice trades. “We can do the different types of packaging formats for all these markets,” Balbi notes. “We also understand markets; when they’re hot and when to react.”

Table grapes is CWT’s largest product offer but the firm wants to grow in the UK with mainly Hass avocados and Wonderful pomegranates. “Peruvian grapes and citrus are already well-known in the UK, and for avocados we have a window when Israel finishes following the Spanish season,” says Balbi.

The group moves close to 2m cartons of grapes, 1.5m cartons of avocados and 150 cartons of pomegranates, or close to 3,000 containers a year. “We’ve been growing a lot in the last five years and our aim is to continue in that vein because of the growth of our plantations,” notes Balbi. “I think there’s a lot of potential in Peru – we’re still loading very little of what we can actually produce.”

CWT’s overall offer includes: grapes, asparagus, citrus, avocados and pomegranates, plus some small volumes of sugar snap and snow peas. Producing in the south of Peru, largely in Ica, the firm has 250ha planted across all crops and owns a further 850ha that are not yet in production.

“We are evaluating three different projects right now; one for seedless grapes, one for pecans and another for new varieties of grapes (not the classic Sugraone or Flame),” reveals Balbi.

Villa Andina – dried superfoods

Relative newcomer Villa Andina is aspiring to ride the superfoods health craze in the UK by introducing new Peruvian products that are good for the body.

“We offer organic and natural dried food products that contribute to improving human health, such as raw, dried superfoods sourced from small organic growers,” explains founder and managing director Daniel Martinto.

“There’s growing demand for products like quinoa, chia and cacao in the UK. Plus we can supply dried formats of goldenberries (physalis), mangoes, camu camu, maca (a tuber that’s similar to Chinese ginger) and banana slices, as well as banana powder and lucuma powder.”

Daniel Martinto_Villa Andina Peru
​Daniel Martinto

Founded in 2007 by Daniel and his brother Pedro, Villa Andina’s business model is to buy directly from small, rural growers. As well as giving its producers an international market for their products, the firm pays for their organic certification and provides advice and tips on technology and production techniques. The idea is to encourage sustainable production and improve living conditions within rural communities.

Villa Andina is looking for health food shop buyers in the UK, but mostly importers who want to bring in container loads to sell to other companies or supermarkets. “We’re open to suggestions,” admits Martinto.

“We ship approximately 20 containers a month across our entire range. We don’t do too much in the UK at the moment as we only have a couple of customers here. Most of our clients are in the Netherlands (10), Germany (2) and the US (20). We’d like very much to work with buyers in the UK.”

Servicios Integrales Agroexportación – dried superfoods 

Expanding Siagro Export is a certified organic processor and supplier for the EU, US and Japanese markets. Although the group has no UK clients at the moment, general manager Peter Marcelo Romero is eager to take the next step.

“We want people in the UK to learn more about our products,” he says. “A lot of people have no idea about Peru other than Machu Picchu! We have quality fruits and superfoods to offer but people don’t know so much about them. All our products are produced naturally in Lima, Junin and Arequipa.”

Set up in 2009, Siagro Export has supplied organic, natural ingredients to Japan, the US, and Spain since 2010. Within its produce range are dried Andean exotic fruits, including camu camu, lucuma and goldenberries, as well as dried purple corn and dried herbs for teas, such as lemongrass and graviola (soursop).

“Camu camu is a tree fruit from the Amazon that looks like a cherry and can be dried and eaten as a snack,” Romero explains. “Lucuma is like a mixture between a banana and a papaya in terms of flavour but with a drier texture. Goldenberry [physalis] has the texture of a tomato. It’s very popular in Peru where it’s eaten as a fruit and can be used in desserts like fruit crumbles.” 

All the fruits fit in well with the UK’s ongoing appreciation for healthy products since they’re full of antioxidants and very high in nutrients compared with other fruits. “They’re all very good for you,” Romero notes, adding that Villa Andina’s products can be packaged in bags or jars of various weights and dimensions.

In terms of sourcing, Siagro Export operates via strategic agreements with small associate growers and collectors. The firm prides itself on paying its producers a fair price for their raw materials. “We do things differently,” claims Romero. “We treat the growers really well, and they work really hard for us. We give them the technical training and support to improve their production, as well as the tools to enhance their quality of life.”

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