Q&A: Peru's opportune tilt at the U.S. pomegranate market
As Peruvian pomegranate growers gear up for U.S. market access, what was once a very small player in the fruit industry will add yet another product to a portfolio that has made waves in grocery aisles with its mangoes, citrus fruit, grapes, avocados and blueberries, to name a few. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we caught up with Agricola Athos vice president Jorge Checa to discuss the upcoming deal.
Which markets does Peru export pomegranates to at the moment?
Until recently Russia was the most important, but a 180° turn has happened with the crisis being experienced by the country. Today, the European market is the main market, while some exports have started into Asia and the Middle East. In view of that, the American market opening could not be more opportune.
And what are Peru's export volumes and expectations for the upcoming season?
In 2015, 17,000 metric tons (MT) were exported, and for 2016 there should be an increase of 40%.
The 2016 season started recently and there is a lot of uncertainty due the weakness of the Russian market on the one hand, and the growing supply of product on the other. It is hoped that we'll be able to export to the United States toward the end of this season, and avoid the drastic reduction in prices that typically happens when the European seasonal fruit starts.
So do you think the U.S. entry would lead to an expansion of production, or would it cut exports to other countries?
The Peruvian industry for fresh products has shown itself to be very dynamic and there is already a significant area planted, so I estimate that markets can expand while maintaining export levels in the markets of Europe and Russia.
In this sense it is vitals that companies join [industry group] ProGranada to finance the efforts required for opening new markets, establishing quality standards, overseeing phytosanitary issues, projecting export volumes, and so on.
How much is forecast for export to the United States?
I estimate that in the medium term it would be 10,000-20,000 metric tons (MT). We have to see the reaction of the American market both in terms of export for direct consumption and for industrial use.
A lot will depend on the installation in Peru over an irradiation plant that would give us greater flexibility for exporting directly to diverse points in the U.S., and not as it will initially be through Gulfport (Mississippi).
The industry has high hopes for the entry of an Australian company interested in developing irradiation.
When do you think you'll be able to enter the U.S. market with pomegranates?
And how will that impact your sector do you think?
remaining girded to the European market would have been complicated. The opening of the American market should give us space for opening other markets. However, it is essential that we become a trustworthy provider of quality fruit. That's no small challenge given how delicate the product is from a phytosanitary point of view.
Finally, how has the El Niño phenomenon affected the Peruvian pomegranate crop?
Not a lot, but perhaps we could say there's less flowering in some cases. It's diffiuclt to see, as there are a lot of growers who do not participate in the association to exchange experiences, and in many cases this is not a product of great importance for many companies.
Note: At the time of writing, Checa had not yet responded to requests to reveal the name of the Australian company mentioned.