U.S.: Nicaraguan dragonfruit appeals to shoppers on a budget

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U.S.: Nicaraguan dragonfruit appeals to shoppers on a budget

Frank Huezo has been in the dragonfruit business for less than a year, but the Nicaraguan producer already has big plans to transform the U.S. market.

Magenta dragonfruit from El Socorro

Magenta dragonfruit from El Socorro

Based in La Concepcion, the 75-acre farm, El Socorro, came to Huezo serendipitously this past April, just as the U.S. opened its borders to the Nicaraguan fruit for the first time.

"We were approached by the Ministry of Agriculture from Nicaragua since the U.S. was opening the borders this year for our fruit. They asked if we could provide the growers with a solid, healthy market for them to sell the fruit," he told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"I met a grower with about 75 acres and he said, 'Instead of buying my fruit, why don’t you buy the farm from me?' And I said, 'OK.' It was an older couple with no kids. They were ready to retire. So we went ahead and bought it from them."

Through export company Transimport, El Socorro achieved being the first Nicaraguan dragonfruit farm to ship its fruit to the U.S. this year.

The farm was able to prove that its plantations were free of fruit fly, and earned phytosanitary approval by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"We exported over 50,000 boxes this season. Someone else exported less than 100 boxes and that was the extent of it. But we are encouraged and are promoting other growers to set up their [fruit fly] traps. They have to have traps set up for a whole year. If you don’t catch a fly, they certify your farm," he said.

Currently, Huezo’s team is working with several other Nicaraguan dragonfruit farmers to prepare them for the U.S. market.

Dragonfruit plants in La Concepción

Dragonfruit plants in La Concepción

"We’ve helped 18 farmers that are neighbors of ours to get their traps set up so that they can be ready for exports next year too. We should be able to export at least 150,000 boxes of dragonfruit," he said.

"We’ve helped them set up the traps and our agronomists are providing them with technical assistance so we can bring the fruit up to the brix level we want it to be and the size we are looking for."

Huezo will also be preparing an additional 200 acres of dragonfruit production in a farm purchased next to El Socorro.

His business has developed rapidly in little time, in large part due to the unexpected enthusiasm of U.S. consumers.

He said Nicaraguan growers are excited to enter a more stable, alternative market. They've also been able to challenge the more expensive competition from Vietnam.

While fruit from Vietnam may sell for as high as US$9.99 a pound in specialty markets, Huezo wants to make the product affordable for the general population.

"Our customers that we’ve sold the fruit to, they retail it anywhere between US$2.49 and US$2.99 a pound, one third of what it used to be. So supermarkets set up massive displays with maybe 20 boxes," he said.


Nicaraguan dragonfruit for a bargain in a U.S. grocery store

"The consumption is overwhelming when they see this fruit at US$2.49 or US$2.99 a pound. Our strategy has been to make it available to the general market, not only to those who know it and are willing to pay premium."

He added that Nicaraguan dragonfruit stands out for its magenta pulp, as opposed the white color seen in Vietnam.

"We’re talking about fruit that everyone in the world wants. People that know dragonfruit have seen the magenta pulp but there’s no availability in the world," he said.

"It’s all we have. We don’t know any better. We have seven varieties on our farm and all have the red pulp. There are many things you can do with dragonfruit of that color that you can’t do with the white and the flavor is different.

"The white doesn’t achieve the brix level that these red varieties do and it’s a little blander."

This past season, dragonfruit from El Socorro reached retailers in Texas and much of the U.S. East Coast. Next season, Huezo hopes to reach the rest of the nation.

"We’ve made contact with several distributors throughout the country that will be handling our fruit. We hope to be nationwide next year. We’re going to have a more ample, greater supply," he said.

Related story: Making dragonfruit mainstream for U.S. consumers


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