Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli's (CSO) Simona Rubbi and other Italian industry representatives discuss growth potential in the market for their country's fruit exports including table grapes, kiwifruit and apples.
After a half-decade absence from the Canadian market, Italian table grape exporters are on track to regaining access this year, according to CSO new market development manager Simona Rubbi.
"Five years ago the Canadian authorities found a pest it seems - Otiorhynchus corruptor - and after that they stopped the import of Italian table grapes," she tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
"It was a very interesting market for Italian grape exports before this prohibition.
"The negotiations to resume exports went on for years as the two governments were unable to come to an agreement over the phytosanitary policies to implement.
However, Canadian officials have since visited Italy to inspect fields and packhouses, and given operations the green light. She says a systems approach has been established to monitor vineyards and facilities, emphasizing growers have to "pay a lot of attention" to what they produce.
"Also cold treatment against Mediterranean fruit fly is foreseen, and they have to register facilities," she says.
"Last year they gave us the new conditions and I really hope that starting from this year, this new commercial campaign, we can start again to export table grapes to the Canadian market," she says, adding if everything goes to plan shipping should begin in August."
Trade Map statistics show 156 metric tons (MT) of the fruit was shipped to Canada last year, which is substantially up on the 16MT exported in 2012, and also above levels registered in 2010 (72MT) and 2009 (115MT).
Rubbi, like many of her compatriots, hopes the table grape industry can emulate the success of other fruit categories in Canada, which saw a 60% rise in Italian fresh fruit imports from 2013 to 2016 to hit 17,855 metric tons (MT).
More than two thirds of that volume came from kiwifruit, while apple exports more than tripled to 2,929MT.
Augusto Renella, export manager of fruit company and CSO member Naturitalia, is optimistic for the export prospects of a wide range of fruit across the Atlantic in Canada.
"Canada is an interesting country because of its low business risks and the high levels of quality requested. It is a market with good development prospects for both fresh and processed Italian fruit and vegetables," Renella says.
"The kiwifruit is without doubt the biggest export to Canada with exports having grown gradually over the last five years.
"Pears are very interesting for Canada, particularly for the Italian-Canadian communities which are very interested in the Abate pear. Pear exports are nevertheless stable, as are plum exports," he says.
Renella adds the table grape re-opening deal achieved last year has improved the overall situation as well.
"Grapes, apples and kiwifruit will probably enjoy further growth," he says.
Rubbi says while recent frosts have damaged some apple orchards in Trentino Alto Adigio as well as kiwifruit fields in Lazio, table grapes are unlikely to be affected as they're mostly in the country's south.
New kiwifruit protocols in the works?
"Californian kiwifruit production is not even enough for the United States, which also imports from Italy. Maybe we have some competition from Greece, but they have different production in terms of sizes and varieties. Meanwhile France does not have very high production," she says.
"We also have yellow varieties and they’re rising a lot in Italy – that’s a positive trend."
Rubbi adds uncertainty remains as new protocols are in discussion to mitigate pest risks from kiwifruit, as well as against European grapevine moth in plums.
"Thanks to technical discussions between the Italian Department of Agriculture and the Canadian Government the block on the export of other fruits like kiwifruit and plums to Canada was avoided," she says.
"However the current conditions for grapes, kiwifruit and plums are prohibitive compared with those of the past."
Marc Peyres, export director at French company Blue Whale, says his company used to export to Canada over a decade ago but left as it has been more of a "price market".
"We left the market to competitors from Italy and now Greece, which are reaching the market with a much lower price than we are able to accept for our fruit," Peyres says.
Anta Tsaira of European Premium Kiwi, a branded consortium of kiwifruit growers from Greece with backing from EU funds, says the producers involved have seen a 100% rise in exports to Canada in recent times.
"Hopefully, we have given room to other kiwi exporters to benefit from entering these markets - we cannot calculate the impact yet for other producers," she says.
Freshness from Europe in Canada
The CSO also runs the Freshness from Europe project, which is jointly funded by Italian companies Alegra, Apofruit, Assomela, Ceradini Group, Cico Mazzoni, Conserve Italia, Made in Blu, Naturitalia, Oranfrizer and Origine Group.
The campaign was featured recently at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) Convention and Trade Show in Toronto from May 9-11.
Apart from its focus on Canada the program also targets the USA, China, the United Arab Emirates and Japan, and includes initiatives targeting the trade, POP promotions, marketing and advertising, and participation at
The Freshness from Europe project focuses on Canada and the USA, China, the United Arab Emirates and Japan, and includes initiatives targeting the trade, POP (point of purchase) promotions, marketing and advertising, and participation at exhibitions and events, for a total value of €3.5 million (US$3.9 million) over a three-year period (2016-2018).
“For us Canada is a key market and in some years it has actually been our biggest market," says Made in Blu director Furio Mazzotti, who is also one of the Freshness from Europe founders.
"This year we achieved good results with Abate pears, Angeleno plums and Soreli kiwifruit, although the market for green kiwifruit was a little flat because it was unable to handle the rise in prices.
"With the Freshness project as well as exhibiting at the Canadian PMA Show we have also organised 2 trade events in Montreal and reached more than 100 stores with the promotional programmes run within the Metro, Sotis and IGA chains."
Ceradini Group also exhibited at the Canadian PMA event as part of the Freshness project.
"It's an Event with lots of potential for us because we aim to be present in all the kiwifruit export markets," says company Director Massimo Ceradini.
"It's a highly competitive market and we have to keep the bar high in terms of both quality and competitive pricing to enable our products to achieve the success they deserve."