Dominican Republic finding a lucrative mango niche
With a harvest that coincides with Mexico, the Dominican Republic’s mango industry decided early on that it wouldn’t aim to be a market leader, however with a focus on differentiation it could get ahead. Since 2004 its exports have grown from US$1 million to US$7 million annually, shipping ethnic, gourmet (ready-to-eat air freight) and organic mangoes. At www.freshfruitportal.com we catch up with the country’s Mango Cluster executive director Gisela Taveras, who is bullish growth can continue but recognizes more work needs to be done.
Taveras has just returned from the Bayahibe Mango Festival, which took place last week on the Dominican Republic’s southeast coast, where the industry coordinated with five hotels to offer degustations to tourists; with 132 different ethnic varieties, the campaign managers certainly weren’t strapped for choice.
“It was a beautiful activity because people got to know our mangoes, and the idea is that in this sector we can develop locally, and then when the tourists go back to their respective countries they will demand our mangoes – they will know the taste, quality, and coloring,” she says.
For Taveras the goal of furthering the country’s mango industry, which shipped 7,000MT last year, requires a multi-faceted approach if it is to reach the 15% growth rate that is hoped for in the coming years.
“From Jun. 14-17 we had the recent ExpoMango fair, with more international visitors than in all the other years, and next year we expect many more because it will coincide with the fact the country was selected to undertake the 10th International Mango Symposium.
“Every time we get the opportunity we attend international fairs – a product that isn’t promoted is not sold.”
She says Europe accounts for 70% of the country’s mango exports with the U.K. as its largest market for the ethnic product, while Canada and the U.S. are significant destinations too.
“We are also exporting to Japan and have been doing so since 2009 – the amount is not very significant as it’s an export you can only do as air freight.
“By ship it takes 30 days to get to Japan and that’s not possible for fresh fruit, so we send by air and that limits volumes. But we are working so that this amount increases and to find ships that can cut this route and therefore cut the distance, so we can send in larger qualities.”
She adds the country was prohibited from exporting to Japan prior to 2009 due to “misinformation”, which was resolved when Japanese officials were invited to the country and determined there were no phytosanitary problems.
“The same thing happened with the United States with prohibited exports to that market because we didn’t have a hydrothermal treatment plant.
“So one of the tasks of the cluster was to install a hydrothermal treatment plant, and from the start of 2005 this market was open.”
She says the country’s mangoes are often yellow varieties, and while they are similar to Indian mangoes, the country’s climate and the development of the fruit over time have meant that the product is different.
“The characteristics of our ethnic mangoes are that they reach a certain brix level (16 degrees brix at ripening), which is the percentage of sweetness the mango has, that is higher than the competition.
The Dominican Republic has around 4,000ha dedicated to a wide variety of mangoes, including native mangoes such as Banilejo, Yamaguí, Puntita, Pechito and Amarillo, as well as introduced varieties like Keitt, Kent, Palmer, Tommy Atkins, Madame Frances and Haden; the latter five mostly fall under the ready to eat air freight, or “gourmet”, category.
The cluster is pushing for greater practices of organic farming as well to capitalize on global demand and the fact it is healthy. Taveras says 10% of the country’s crop is dedicated to organic production.
A value-added future
She says the cluster is also moving in the direction of more value-adding activities that will better harness the total crop each year.
“The industry today is working on industrialization, as there are mangoes that don’t qualify for export, nor for the local market, and we don’t want to waste these mangoes.
“That’s why we’re working on a program with the European Union to produce mango chips, dried mangoes, and also mango juices.
“We are also working on mango pulp which can be exported to be many countries, including in Europe, the U.S. and Japan; we want to develop this part of the market, to make the most of all the mangoes that are not consumed fresh.”
She concludes the industry can keep growing at 15%, and to support this the cluster will continue to strive to raise awareness of its product overseas.
“And that’s being conservative as we have more work to do on mangoes that are of quality and exportable.”