Costa Rican pineapple company to double cultivation
Selling more than 35 containers of pineapples every week to clients including Chiquita, Rosemont Farms, Bonanza, Wal-Mart and Harvest Fresh Growers, Costa Rican company Upala Agrícola plans to almost double its cultivated area in the coming year. The company's logistics manager Gabriela Sandi tells www.freshfruitportal.com about balancing this growth with commitment to quality and protecting the environment.
The Costa Rican government and pineapple industry have received their share of flak over 'greenwashing' environmental contamination issues recently, but many companies are making genuine efforts to improve the country's conservation reputation.
One such business is Upala Agricola, which has armed itself with a string of internationally-recognized certifications that set the bar high.
"We are certified with GLOBAL G.A.P and also with the Rainforest Alliance, HACCP, ISO 140001 and we were recently certified with something specifically for the U.S. through a food certification with Primus," says Sandi.
"This shows our clients that our productive standards are high in terms of the plants themselves, on a human level in terms of labor, and obviously on an environmental level.
"Our property has an important amount of land, more than 150 hectares, that is protected either in forest or areas of vegetation - our way of farming has a strong commitment to the environment and that is reflected in our certification."
Expansion plans and European growth
Hand in hand with its 'collection' of certifications, the company has embarked on an ambitious growing program that will almost double its planting area.
"We have a productive area of more than 450 hectares and at the moment we are planning expansion having just started working with 400 more hectares dedicated to fresh pineapples," she says.
"The 400 hectares will start to give fruit and generate volumes of pineapples at the start of the October next year - in 2013 you will see their growth as complete."
She says Upala Agricola divides its exports between the United States and Europe at 70% and 30% respectively, with strong growth expected in the European market.
"Despite all the discussion about prices which we’ve had in the past weeks, the European Union has 27 countries with half a billion inhabitants, so the potential for fresh fruit consumption is very attractive.
"Europe is a market that still doesn’t stop developing, there are so many opportunities, and the eastern areas have started to be interesting too."
The company has chosen to trade with clients through fixed price contracts, which helps it develop long term relationships and avoid the whims of often volatile markets.
"We are a company that works with relations that are fixed and stable for 52 weeks of the year, and what we do is negotiate our prices with clients in a way that benefits both parties during the whole year," she says.
"If the market is paying more, probably my client is profiting and me not so much, but it's something we've always had and it's our policy during the whole year.
"It's a policy with more consistency, to create trade relationships for the long term, and it helps us develop our expansion plans too."
Sandi highlights a growing trend towards processing, with many of its clients using Upala Agricola pineapples for fresh-cut options.
"We have pineapples for processing that we sell to our clients - we sell the pineapple as it is, from the harvest, packed and sent, and our clients give them to distributors with machines that can do all the peeling and cutting of the fruit, and afterwards pack them in plastic cases that are placed on the supermarket shelves."
Paving a new way
Sandi says it is rewarding to see the company grow the way it has, with its 400-strong team of employees working hard to harvest high quality fruit, while also managing the property in a way that is better for the surrounding nature.
"It is beautiful to see the property grow. It is emotional to see the efforts that are put in every day from the people who work in the country from very early hours at dawn, working on the land, through to the people in the plants who are packing after the good efforts done in the field, and then the commercial team that help get that fruit to international markets," she says.
"It gives us the desire to keep doing what we're doing, as we believe we have gained an important space in the market; an important place in the sector. We have good support, we have credibility and I think it’s an opportunity to keep growing."