Philadelphia-based fresh produce company Unifrutti of America officially announced a rebrand this week, changing its name to Tastyfrutti International with a new, more colorful logo. CEO Andreas Economou tells www.freshfruitportal.com the decision related to an ownership change, and gives his insights into the key retail trends that will impact the fruit trade.
While Economou founded Unifrutti of America, he emphasizes the group ought not to be confused with the original Unifrutti in Italy, which is part of the holdings of the De Nadai family.
Until recently, the De Nadai Group owned 75% of Unifrutti of America and Economou had 25%, although the U.S. firm operated independently with the exception of trading ties with Unifrutti South Africa for citrus imports.
“Last August we started negotiations – the family between themselves had some questions about what they wanted to do, so I asked them if I could buy the 75%,” Economou says
“On October 15, 2015, the transaction was completed,” he said, adding he wished to keep the value of the purchase private.
He says both parties wanted to change the name of the new entity in order to avoid confusion with the original Unifrutti and its associated companies.
“The De Nadai family has many Unifruttis around the world, so the decision was made. I hired an advertising and marketing agency, we got together, we changed the name and finalized it as Tastyfrutti International, Inc.”
“At the same time remember, part of the agreement is they cannot start a Unifrutti company in the United States or Canada for three years.
“The agreement also is that the company name Unifrutti cannot be used after July 15, 2016.”
While Unifrutti of America has not shipped fruit from Unifrutti in Chile in more than 10 years, it still sources from other Chilean grower-exporters and Economou wanted to wait until the end of the Chilean deal before announcing the name change.
He adds the company also sources citrus from Goede Hoop Vrugte in South Africa, kiwifruit from Greece, some Peruvian grape volumes and a range of Chilean fruit from different parties including table grapes, apples, pears, stonefruit and limited volumes of kiwifruit.
“They will be the same people, the same bank, the same finance, so there’s no change except for the name and establishing the brand,” Economou says when asked about how the new arrangement may impact the current structure.
When queried about key trends in the market, Economou points to three main issues – a shift toward pre-packing and clamshells, higher demand for extra large or large-sized grapes and a greater intolerance for defects.
“Many companies now are going to be looking at packing because maybe they’ll go more into pre-packing and the clamshell situation. We’re looking at trends like that – packing is the main thing.
“Another trend in the United States is on grapes, most of the supermarkets now demand large or extra large grapes. It’s not like the old days when we could move a lot of mediums.
“Another trend is they are becoming very intolerant with product that has defects. Even though we see some of the chains saying ‘we’re going to have some kind of Number 2 or ugly fruit, second class fruit in the store to prevent waste’, we haven’t seen that yet.”
He says these trends will have flow-on effects on farms.
“Those trends are going to affect production. I feel that it can be done but growers will have to find the different markets that require a certain size or will accept certain defects.”
So if a real solution is not found for selling second class fruit, there could be an increase in food waste?
“Exactly. Well, lastly you have to realize there is a lot of research in new varieties. There are a lot of varieties that will help this trend to have larger sizes on grapes, better color, longer shelf life, better taste and it’s the same thing for stonefruit.
“The problem with the grape is it needs a lot of manual labor and it makes them expensive to produce. That’s why there will be a big emphasis on the table grapes.”
Regarding the current North American table grape season, he says picking started around five days earlier than normal in Coachella for Flames, on May 5.
“It hit a good market because there were fewer grapes from Chile because of the weather, unfortunately for Chile,” he says.
“So Coachella entered a good market, especially in the beginning. Mexico entered a bit later, maybe two or three days later from the 7-10.
“Two or three weeks later, that market was not as spiffy – still very good, better than last year, but not as excellent I would say,” he says, also adding the benefits brought to the trade from the exchange rate for both Chile and Mexico.
In terms of kiwifruit, even though until recently there was an excess of Italian supply in the market, Unifrutti of America/Tastyfrutti International was able to avoid the associated problems in its Greek kiwifruit deal.
“Our kiwifruit business is on a program basis. We do not use the spot market and that’s where you saw the Italians negatively affecting the Chilean and New Zealand kiwifruit unfortunately.
“Remember we only keep it in the East Coast because on the West Coast the production of California is right there. We have an overlap in freight which helps our program, and we’re trying to expand that as much as possible.
“We also do very limited business in kiwifruit with Chile – we are very particular in the returns we give to the grower. There is no sense bringing in kiwifruit that will bring in a negative result for the grower. That’s not our business.”
In terms of citrus, Economou says the company’s first South African arrivals are expected on June 27 for clementines and July 1 for oranges.