U.S.: Golden berry importers take the 'cape' out of cape gooseberries
Whether you want to call it physalis or golden berry, the complex-flavored fruit is still referred to as 'cape gooseberry' by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates the regions allowed to ship the crop to the U.S.
The traditional name refers to the 'cape' or husk that surrounds the berry as a natural protection, but importers are finding more success in the market if they simply get rid of the superfluous paper-thin covering.
"When you think of the American concept of the berry and placement on the shelf, you're going to think of Driscoll's and Naturipe strawberries or blueberries," says Matt Aaron of Andes Fruits Colombia, which tailors around half its sales to the organic market.
"A golden berry without the husk makes a little more sense in the American concept of what a berry is. When they see the skin the fruit moves a lot slower because consumers aren't sure what it is," he says, adding around 90% of what the company sells now is without the husk.
Pichuberry CEO Michael Popescu says his company sells some fruit with the cape still on, but "that's kind of a side product now".
"The main intent is to sell it without the cape because the U.S. consumer is more open to seeing the product that they’re buying," Popescu says.
"It also helps the quality perspective so when you do the quality check you can actually see the berry, whereas before you had to open up every cape which is very inefficient and very hard to progress.
"We do have a de-caping mechanism that’s still being perfected because sometimes it takes the whole fruit apart – so we have that but we also have to compensate using manual labor."
Popescu's company name has been chosen to conjure up images of association as the fruit is native to the Andes, including the Peruvian area around Machu Picchu; the company's slogan for marketing the fruit is 'The lost Incan treasure'.
"Our new Pichuberry is designed for the consumer to realign the fruit with its native environment, which is Machu Picchu in Peru," Popescu says.
"All these other names out there, including its scientific name physalis peruviana or physalis, they don’t create a direct relationship to its native environment," he says, adding the company has also gone into value-added products such as dried fruit, chocolate-coated Pichuberries and a puree that can be used in juicing applications.
Popescu says the company sources the fruit from Colombia, Peru and Chile. Meanwhile, Andes Fruits is more focused on importing from its namesake country Colombia.
Aaron says only two regions in Colombia, Boyaca and Cundinamarca, currently have permission to ship golden berries to the United States.
"It’s an agreement between the USDA and ICA, and it’s all centered around the risk of the Mediterranean fruit fly, so anything that’s going to happen needs to be researched and proved to the USDA that it’s not a risk so we can grow in more territories," Aaron says.
"With Ica you have to monitor on a farm for fruit fly for nine months before you can export…that makes things slower than we’d like."
However, when the time comes to open up more regions Andes Fruits Colombia will be ready, as the group is already producing the fruit in the department of Nariño for the European market.
"We're looking at other parts of the allowed regions for more," he adds.
The importer indicates there have been a few difficulties this year in getting the right supply at the right times to match demand.
"It’s interesting – in the springtime of this year we had a ton of demand but we didn’t have the supply to match it," he says.
"In the summertime, when school was out we actually had a little bit more supply but we didn’t have the demand to match, but now it’s leveled out again."
He says Andes Fruits Colombia has found strong demand for organic golden berries in northern California around San Francisco, in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.
For the conventional product, demand is slowly growing in the country's interior, with companies like Pichuberries now available to supply from distribution hubs around the country.
"Established distribution includes mostly a stronger presence on the West Coast in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona of course," Popescu says.
"We also have a stronger presence in the Midwest and the Northeast, and now we’re working on an entry in the Southeast.
"We sell not only through retail but to school districts, as part of our ADFEF Bit B program which is the fresh format fruit and vegetable program from the USDA that they have actually developed."