Apples lead fruit imports in Central America but not consumption
Apples are the fruit with the largest number of varieties imported to Central America, although they were not the fruit that accounted for the greatest level of consumption, Chile’s Agricultural Attaché for Central America and the Caribbean reported.
The Secretary of Central American Economic Integration’s (SIECA) records show that apple imports have grown significantly in Central America since 2007, jumping from 49,819 tons (MT) to 56,082 tons in 2011, 12% growth.
Costa Rica leads apple imports in Central America, the agricultural attaché report said, at a level of US$17.49 million, followed by Guatemala at US$15.9 million, Honduras at US$15.1 million and El Salvador at US$12.9 million. Costa Rica is also the number one importer in Central America of Chilean apples, in particular.
Despite high imports, apples did not, however, dominate fruit consumption. Annual apple consumption in the region, according to the agricultural attaché, is estimated around 5 kilos per person and lags behind bananas and plantains at 21.3 kilos, citrus fruits at 19.9 kilos and pineapple at 6.9 kilos.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported, in 2009, the total fresh fruit consumption per capita in the region reached about 75.2 kilos a year, a number that has been increasing.
Honduras ranks as the country in the region with the most fruit consumption at 98.8 kilos per person a year. It is followed closely by Costa Rica at 95.2 kilos, El Salvador at 82.9 kilos and Guatemala at 62.6 kilos. However, the report notes that these data only reflect consumption through formal trade and do not include the estimated consumption of fruit marketed through informal channels.
Almost all shipments came from the U.S. and Chile, however, importers have been encouraged to seek supplies from other countries to corner unmet demand or innovate with new varieties that are not being sold by traditional providers.
According to the report, in 2008 Chile was the main apple supplier in Central America, a position taken by the USA since 2009.
In the last five years, Chilean fresh apples have shown a downward trend dropping from 28,687 tons to 22,875 tons, which represents a 20% fall in volume, the agricultural attaché’s statement said.
The Royal Gala apple is the variety that has led Chilean exports, reaching 13,178 tons in 2011 and representing 60.7% of total shipments. The variety was followed Richared Delicious and Granny Smith. Red varieities such as Starking and Red Chief represent much smaller volumes.
Chilean apples enjoy high prestige among importers and consumers in the region, both for their quality and the security of supply during the Chilean season.
However, importers expressed concern about the availability of fruit and the Chilean industry’s ability to meet growing demand, the agricultural attaché report said.
Distance can be a key factor for suppliers such as Argentina and New Zealand, but logistics are essential to ensure constant supply. Reliability helps importers by making it unnecessary to import product from other locations.
At the consumer level, the report notes in general people perceive apples as a healthy product that is modern and safe.
For these reasons, imported apples, despite having a higher price than locally produced fruit, are part of the region’s diet, the attaché said. Due to their performance and durability, they are an excellent snack alternative, providing fiber, carbohydrates and vitamins.