Year 2016 in Review
By Fresh Fruit Portal editor Matt Ogg
Cool as cucumbers, the world’s produce growers and traders hurtled through 2016 as per usual while the world moved into uncharted territory along what have now become well-trodden dialectics of indignation versus relief, fear versus vindication.
Talking politics is something of a taboo in this industry but it would be a disservice to ignore the political year that was 2016, when polls stumbled and populist movements rose above them – Brexit, Trump’s election, even the rejection of Colombia’s peace process referendum.
It would be a long bow to connect any of this directly to fruit and vegetable growers, but the indirect consequences of these developments could be widespread in the year ahead.
Fortunately the food sector is not so much economically cyclical as climatically so. Therefore, no matter what happens now as global powers are at loggerheads and markedly different political systems take root, growers in the most part will need to pay more attention to the weather than the winds of ideology.
But for anyone who trades fruits and vegetables internationally, the connections are as inextricable as they are unpredictable. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of China critic Peter Navarro to head up a new national trade body shows he was not messing around in his opposition to China’s trade policies.
Like producers everywhere, a large chunk of U.S. horticulture has geared its plantings and varieties towards the Chinese market. Here at Yentzen Group we have committed too through our sister site Chinafruitportal.com, and are just as invested in a working U.S.-China relationship. So here’s hoping Trump’s stance is more a bargaining position - as many pundits claim –than an outright action plan.
A breakdown of U.S.-China trade relations would be an absolute disaster for fruit traders. There is no doubt about that.
In certain categories it would lead to either a flooding of the U.S. domestic market or a diversion of fruit to other regions, and returns would fall in both scenarios. One might expect other fruit-exporting nations to capitalize on such a circumstance in China, but we need only look back on the aftermath of the Russian ban on EU produce to know such benefits for third parties from trade restrictions can be short-lived.
And in a world where the U.S. president will have the capacity to alter stock markets and expectations with any spontaneous tweet, traders will also need to get the currency exchange terms of their contracts in order too.
This might all sound a bit pessimistic but it pays to consider contingencies, and there is actually much to be positive about in the produce sector with pretty favorable underlying demand growth trends; this is not the case for every single crop – everyone is competing for stomach share – but a hungry, health-conscious world with room for dietary improvement can only bode well for a food category that is essential for good nutrition.
But as in politics, those who are complacent and lose touch with their clientele (consumers in place of voters) will fall by the wayside and new victors will enter the arena.
So who have been some of the winners in the produce industry in 2016? I would say companies that have made the switch to or upgraded their branded produce, those who happened to produce on-trend items like beets, cauliflower, jackfruit or avocados, and also those with premium, licensed brands within well-established categories like apples, table grapes and easy peelers.
Shareholders in major crop protection and seed companies Syngenta and Monsanto have done well this year too, with buyouts on the cards from ChemChina and Bayer respectively, representing what would be unprecedented consolidation in the agricultural services space. Now we will wait and see what the response is from regulators across different jurisdictions.
And while consolidation continued in the pesticide sector, never before have I seen organic certification to be so prevalent, and this was particularly noticeable at the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit in October.
Reading over the list of the year’s most popular stories is always interesting for me, and what I see in the 2016 list – apart from the weather events and food safety issues that always rouse interest – is a fair share of innovation, new product introductions, creative solutions to agricultural challenges, continued merger and acquisition activity, and new market access deals. I suspect we will be seeing more of all these trends in the 12 months ahead.
Underlying all this was a year in which our editorial staff traveled more than in any other year I can think of, and we’ve met some wonderful people along the way and heard a wide variety of perspectives on the development and future of this industry. I’d like to say thank you to everyone who worked with us in 2016, and we look forward to continued updates and fascinating conversations in 2017.
But perhaps the most relevant change for us at Yentzen Group has been the acquisition from Florida-based Phoenix Media, one of the world’s leading publishing houses in the produce industry which is responsible for such publications as Produce Business Magazine and news site Produce Business UK, as well as events such as the New York Produce Show, the London Produce Show and the Amsterdam Produce Show.
On several occasions sources and contributors have told me the deal is a perfect fit, and I’m inclined to agree. There is great appeal in the company's big-picture, thought-leader approach to news, so culturally it has not been such a challenge. I find it exciting that we'll be able to share ideas and combine our respective backgrounds in order to grow further.
But we are still the same Fresh Fruit Portal in our philosophy, striving to provide you our readers with the most newsworthy, relevant, insightful and diverse stories from around the globe, while hopefully breaking a few cultural and language barriers in the process with the help of our Mandarin-language and Spanish-language sister sites.
There is so much more I could write about 2016, but I'd rather finish by mentioning a few fruit-related experiences of interest from the year.
The most captivating experiences were probably in the Peruvian Amazon, where I tried an acidic and sweet fruit called charichuelo, which has a hard yellow peel and seeded fruit inside with a taste somewhere between a mangosteen and a lemon. Also in the Amazon Rainforest, for the second time I tasted cupuazú, a cousin of cacao which has an almost cherimoya-like texture and a musky aftertaste. Exotic fruits are often so for a reason - whether it be due to taste or logistics - but these are two finds that I reckon have great potential.
In the processing and packaging space I saw two developments that caught my attention for bolstering relatively niche, but prospective produce segments. Both were at the PMA Fresh Summit, in the form of Melissa's Produce's pre-cut jackfruit packs, and Shanley Farms' method for mechanically processing "citrus caviar" finger limes.
And speaking of finger limes, there have been some delightful crosses between different varieties of the native Australian fruit with others, such as Australian blood oranges. It was definitely a highlight of the year to try some of these at Asia Fruit Logistica in September.
Also worth mentioning is the coconut craze that swept across global produce markets this year, including the Spanish-based Genuine Coconut, as well as Asian growth for a Thai coco-café chain.
It has been an eventful year for us all I'm sure, and aside from the news we report it's always an event as well to try new flavors. What a great job to have! All I would personally like to ask though is please stop using the term 'flavor profile' - the word 'flavor' already exists, and it's a good one.
We wish you all a very happy new year and can’t wait to hit the ground running in 2017. I invite you to browse through some of this year's top stories listed below.
Chinese customs raid importers in US$91M fruit smuggling case. Click here
U.S. Listeria outbreak linked to Dole packaged salads. Click here
U.S. apple exporters hit with fees in Mexico. Click here
U.K.: Tesco in hot water for delayed supplier payments. Click here
Australia: Avocados may hit AUD$100 per tray. Click here
Peru: Blueberries now a “nine-month business” for Camposol. Click here
India: Fruit and veg the driving force behind Big Basket’s online expansion. Click here
Chile: Recent rain, humidity wiped out 30% of Flame and Superior grapes. Click here
Total Produce buys majority stake in U.S. produce group. Click here
Provocative photographer makes social comment on ‘ugly fruit’. Click here
Q&A: Driscoll’s applies fresh approach to ag labor relations. Click here
Mexican banana brand picks up where Chiquita left off. Click here
New nests on the horizon for hawk-shaped Spanish drones. Click here
France: Food waste is a crime as of today. Click here
U.S. and Cuba reach agricultural agreement breakthrough. Click here
Colombia: Uniban security chief murdered. Click here
Chile to eliminate junk food from schools. Click here
China halts kiwiberry imports. Click here
New U.S. food safety rules to require ‘preventative controls’ from exporters. Click here
Dole, Maersk team up with new reefer solution. Click here
U.S.: Whole Foods joins “one stop shop” Equitable Food Initiative. Click here
Chile gripped by floods. Click here
Hortifrut, Munger Brothers merge to create global berry network. Click here
Canada: Nature’s Touch recalls frozen fruit over Hep A concerns. Click here
Chile: Intense rains cut grape season short, says Fedefruta. Click here
Electrically charged solution increases produce shelf life. Click here
“Bizarre” Mexican mango season pushes on. Click here
Denmark: Army of ants safeguard apple and pear orchards. Click here
U.S.: ConAgra takes action after CRF Frozen Foods recall. Click here
U.S. compost guidance changes could put organic sector in “chaos”. Click here
Colombia’s biggest cocaine bust was “not on a banana farm”, claims union. Click here
U.S. to allow Hass avocado imports from all Mexican states. Click here
Plastic covers worth their weight in gold for Chilean kiwifruit. Click here
U.S. organic product sales hit US$43.3B record in 2015. Click here
Asian produce companies appear in Panama Papers. Click here
Freshfel explains Brexit impacts on produce trade. Click here
Fresh Del Monte subsidiary awarded US$32M in Costa Rica pineapple dispute. Click here
U.S.: Sakuma Brothers Farms responds to anti-union allegations. Click here
Oxfam report takes aim at Ecuadorian, Costa Rican tropical fruit industries. Click here
U.S.: Chilean shipping exec indicted for price fixing. Click here
U.K.: ‘No immediate regulatory changes likely’ following Brexit, says FPC. Click here
Could natural Aussie tech change the avocado processing game? Click here
U.S.: Grapery to harvest first commercial Gum Drops crop. Click here
China finds first case of “kiwifruit rot” in NZ shipment. Click here
Golden Wing Mau buys NZ$72M stake in T&G. Click here
Hortifrut, Munger Brothers buy time for berry merger. Click here
Mexico: Could jackfruit prove a snack for all trades? Click here
U.S.: Sakuma opens door for potential union recognition. Click here
U.S.: GMO labeling bill passes Congress. Click here
Driscoll’s rolls out global berry rebranding campaign. Click here
Fresh Del Monte building ‘Mexico’s largest avocado packing plant’. Click here
South Africa: SRCC’s ‘one billion rand’ citrus investment plan. Click here
U.S.: Overtime bill passes California Senate. Click here
Canada Banana Farms plans rapid expansion. Click here
POM Wonderful president aims to “supplant” whole fruit with arils. Click here
Overtime bill could cut Californian ag economy by US$4.5B, report claims. Click here
U.S.: Sakuma farmworkers vote yes for union. Click here
Andy Hall found guilty by Thai court. Click here
Could irradiation protocols give Aussie exports a competitive edge? Click here
Bayer confirms US$66B takeover of Monsanto. Click here
Fyffes buys Canadian mushroom company for €41M. Click here
Dole China exec outlines avocado strategy. Click here
India: INI Farms’ new branding targets children’s health, food safety. Click here
The Hass Horn: Impacts of the Mexican avocado strike. Click here
U.S.: How will the Mexican strike affect other avocado suppliers? Click here
Dole acquires Chile’s TucFrut Farms. Click here
South Africa: Major table grape packhouse to be built through new JV. Click here
U.S.: GM Arctic Apples ready for first test marketing in early 2017. Click here
U.S.: Florida’s fruit importers brace for Hurricane Matthew. Click here
Chile scores Chinese nectarine market access. Click here
Peru gains Chinese blueberry market access. Click here
North America: “This is what a mature blueberry market looks like”, says Brazelton. Click here
Rabobank: Trump policy could tighten U.S. farmer margins. Click here
Sun World adds Southern Hemisphere table grape licensees. Click here
Australia: United Exports extends blueberry investment. Click here
U.S. NAFTA withdrawal would be ‘disastrous’, says Mexican avocado rep. Click here
Think small to think big, says Albert Heijn exec. Click here
Could new technique give citrus greening the red light? Click here
U.S.: Edible Garden to roll out new Superleaf lettuce in 2017. Click here
Young Entrepreneur: Could consumer-oriented baby apple trees take off? Click here
U.S. interest rising in Peruvian avocado programs, says Mission Produce exec. Click here
California: Oppy enters berry JV with Hasegawa family. Click here
Argentine lemon opening a "lump of coal" for California citrus growers. Click here
NZ: Fruitcraft launches new "Dazzle" apple variety. Click here