India: INI Farms bets on pineapples, coconuts
INI Farms has made its name in bananas and pomegranates, but now with a new packhouse set to open later this month the company is trying its hand at new products.
General manager Kalpesh Khivasara says the new facility 80km (50mi) outside Pune has 70,000 square feet of usable area, and would be a change from the current system of rented packhouses where each product is handled at a different location.
"Now it’s all moving to one operation so we’ll have much more control of the operations and the overall quality. It will be an integrated unit," Khivasara tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
"The logistics cost will go down because multiple products can be dispatched from a single location. That could help with our domestic operations too so we can collect multiple products in a single vehicle."
Bananas and pomegranates continue to be the mainstay of INI Farms' business, but in terms of new initiatives the executive highlights potential growth in a tropical fruit seldom associated with India - pineapples.
"We also started working in pineapples in the local markets now. We've been doing it since the last year - there is no organized player in pineapples in India so we’re focusing on that," he says.
"What we are trying to do is change some of the practices for the farmers to ensure the fruit which is easy for the consumer to pick and eat, in terms of increasing its brix content to control the inputs as well as the stage of harvest.
"In India pineapples are not consumed by a vast majority of the people, primarily because it’s not easy to eat."
He says trials have started for pre-cut pineapples, which should become more of an important business in a few weeks' time.
"Right now we’re in the whole fruit only. Once we move to the new packhouse, we would start sending out the commercial shipments for the cut pineapples as well.
When asked about potential pineapple exports, Khivasara says talks have started with many of INI Farms' customers in different geographies such as Europe and the Middle East.
"They are more than willing to try out the Indian pineapples, which are hardly exported currently. No one is aware that pineapples are grown in India as well.
"We will be sending out samples in a couple of months, because it needs to be of the right standard and because it will be compared to the MD2 variety which is not available in India.
"We have Mauritius Queen, that’s the sweeter variety as table fruit which can be used for table consumption, and there’s another variety called Kew which is more of a juicing variety."
Building on the results of INI's processing of pomegranate arils, he says the company has now been working with processed coconuts for the last few months.
"We’re seeing good traction in Europe for coconut chunks," he says.
"Basically we have quite a strength in cut fruits and vegetables – after our success in pomegranate arils, we started with coconuts, and in the next year we’ll come up with more products in the cut fruit section.
"Our strength lies in ensuring that the fruit is handled well and that it has the right shelf life for the customers and it’s ready to eat."
Pomegranates and bananas going strong
While expansion into new products and the launch of a new facility may grab attention, it's the revenue from INI Farms' core businesses that allow these initiatives to be possible. Khivasara says the pomegranate business is growing, and bananas even more so.
"India actually has 12-month pomegranate production. We ship 12-months a year," he says.
"The main season starts in December and lasts until April, that is when no other country has production. It’s at the end of the Israeli season and before the start of the South American season.
"Otherwise we continue shipping pomegranates the whole year. Right now we are shipping to South East Asia, the Middle East."
When asked about market conditions, Khivasara says pomegranates are a product where demand generally outstrips supply.
"There is similar demand to last year – due to the delayed rains in India there was some shortage a few weeks back but now it’s back to the normal volume. Four to six weeks back there was a shortage and prices went up quite a lot," he says.
He says trees oriented towards the December harvest are looking quite good.
"We’ve had good monsoons in the last few weeks so the coming season looks good – I expect a lot of production compared to last year.
"This year we don’t have any plans of planting new trees. Most of the plantations that we have done now should start coming into more production, so the volumes continue to go up."
He says the growth in the banana business has mainly been driven by a shortage from the Philippines, leading to unmet demand overall and India has been able to fill the gap.
"The Middle East and even Southeast Asia continue to demand Indian bananas – there is a shortage compared to demand. There has been much faster volume for us specifically.
"For bananas most of our production, most of the volumes that we handle are through contract farming or through trade sourcing – our own plantations will start production from the end of this year, but it will be less than 10% of the total banana volumes that we handle."