For many in Egypt’s fresh fruit and vegetable sector when looking north at potential destinations for their products the UK still looms large, whatever the lure of emerging export options beyond Europe’s frontiers may be. Produce Business UK speaks with two prominent suppliers – Trade Waves and Stars of Export – to assess the opportunities for growth in table grapes, onions, garlic and sweet potatoes, in particular
For major Egyptian fruit exporter Trade Waves, the UK absorbs 60% of its total table grape export business, which it primarily markets under the ‘Fruit Waves’ brand. As Ahmed Hodaiby, general manager of the Giza-based company, explains, Trade Waves specialises in grapes – specifically Sugraone, Prime and Flame – strawberries and pomegranates, among other products, much of which is destined for the UK.
Hodaiby admits the UK market has unique characteristics and challenges that both set it apart from comparable destinations in Europe, and mean exporters have to be able to ensure consistent high quality to meet both consumer and retailer demands.
But he believes most Egyptian fruits and vegetables have opportunities in the UK, provided they meet these quality and food safety demands, although he cautions that the market has capacity limits that need to be carefully considered to avoid possible price collapse.
“The UK is a premium quality demanding market where there is minimal tolerance allowed,” he says. “The payback is that the UK market is more profitable, but only for those suppliers who manage to pass the strict quality requirements.”
Drawing on 30 years’ experience in agriculture, Trade Waves is a well-recognised name in the global fresh produce sector, according to Hodaiby, who says the company applies a strict food safety protocol – it is GlobalGAP and ISO9001 certified – to make sure it complies with British regulations.
“Although Trade Waves exports premium fresh produce to different continents of the world, UK remains one of our main markets – it still constitutes about 60% of our grape exports,” he says.
New grape varieties
In terms of Trade Waves’ own business, Hodaiby says the UK is demanding more red seedless grapes, revealing that the company is currently cooperating with a breeder to test new varieties in Egypt.
Despite ongoing challenges in the marketplace, the group recorded a successful grape season in 2015, producing Flame Seedless under plastic for the first time to meet increasing UK demand for greater quality and availability.
“Although the overall market size has not grown, Trade Waves managed to increase its market share in some destinations including prime quality UK supermarkets,” Hodaiby explains.
Following such successes, the exporter is working on “stretching” its grape season, primarily through the introduction of two new varieties this year. Prime, an early white seedless variety, will be exported by Trade Waves for the first time after the company obtained official royalty export rights, while Red Globe is being added to the firm’s range as a late season red seeded variety for certain markets.
Looking further ahead, Hodaiby says through the company’s focus on continuous research and development to achieve sustainable quality, Trade Waves has two additional new grape varieties ready for launch in the near future, while a number of other grapes are being tested. Trade Waves has also secured rights to a new red grape variety, with the first crop expected next year.
Opportunities with onions, garlic and sweet potatoes
Of course, Egyptian fresh produce exports to the UK are not all about grapes. Stars of Export, which is based in Beni Suef on the banks of the Nile, has been growing, packing and exporting onions and garlic for 25 years, as well as spring onions and sweet potatoes.
In the case of the UK, explains company marketing manager Ahmed Adel, Stars of Export specialises in two varieties of spring onion – Giza and Foton – along with sweet potatoes and red onions. However, it is demand for its spring onion varieties which makes the UK a particularly important market for the company.
“The UK is a very important market for us, especially in spring onions as it takes the two varieties for long periods – even longer than the Dutch and German markets,” says Adel.
However, since it can typically take longer for Egypt-grown products to reach the UK, compared with Germany and the Netherlands for example, Adel says fresh produce detained for the UK has to be both pre-cooled and of the highest quality.
Following what Stars of Export’s marketing manager describes as a very successful 12 months last year, particularly in the UK, the company is now eyeing further expansion of its exports to British clients, arguing that Egypt’s location provides a competitive advantage.
“We see further opportunities for Egyptian spring onions and sweet potatoes in the UK, as Mexican onions only come by air, so prices are very expensive compared to Egyptian ones. We have also begun to grow new varieties of sweet potato, like Covington, which are already finding a market in the UK,” Adel concludes.