Financial woes hit Pichuberry
Three Colombian exporters have made the accusations against the company, whose CEO Michael Popescu admitted on one account that payments were outstanding.
The news comes just months after the importer was embroiled in a scandal over the alleged fraud of organic certificates.
Frutireyes logistics and sales manager Andrea Carolina Tapias Garcia told Fresh Fruit Portal Pichuberry allegedly owed her company more than US$15,500 with outstanding payments since March, while Novacampo manager Andrés Riaño also alleged he was owed more than US$15,000 dating back to two years ago.
Andrés Galvis of Garden Herbs, which distributes goldenberries in the United States for Colombian company Ocati, also alleged the non-payment of thousands of dollars but preferred not to give an exact amount as the ordeal occurred back in 2013.
Frutireyes manager Luis Reyes told Fresh Fruit Portal he was glad the company decided to stop doing business with Pichuberry in March or the amount owed could have been much larger.
"The company was in economic difficulties and we decided to not continue sending to them because they weren’t paying," he said.
"They never paid on time and they never met the commercial terms – it was always delayed, we’d never had clients that had done that."
He said after polite insistence, Popescu told him Pichuberry wasn't able to pay and was in a process of bankruptcy review. This is confirmed in emails obtained by Fresh Fruit Portal.
"We are the biggest goldenberry producers in Colombia and we are the ones with the biggest push into the United States with goldenberry - right now we have 75% of the market, but I don’t know what’s happening with Pichuberry," he said.
In response to the issue, Popescu told us he perhaps shouldn't have used the word bankruptcy in his correspondence with Reyes.
"Luis may have misunderstood since I did mention to him the financial review is needed in order to assess the current state of the company in order to avoid drastic measures and prevent activities such as bankruptcy," Popescu said.
"The review is a preventive measure and that's what I have been trying to explain. Maybe the word bankruptcy should not have been used since it seems it has thrown him off.
In a separate email he then emphasized the difficulty of launching a new brand, describing the company's situation as a "slump".
Reyes added that despite the problems with Pichuberry, Frutireyes' goldenberry sales in the U.S. were going very well overall and he appreciated the strategic marketing and distribution efforts partners had made in the North American market.
Riaño of Novacampo expressed a similar situation to that described by Reyes.
"We extended the issue of payment and they kept saying they were going to pay but sales were bad and they had problems, and that they were going to make some small payments," Riaño said.
"But nothing came from anywhere and we knew that they were buying from other companies.
"We spoke with them on various occasions – they always said they were going to pay, that they understood, that they were restructuring things."
Galvis of Garden Herbs said in his case in 2013 while payments were delayed they were in small amounts, and allegedly there was still a balance of a few thousand dollars remaining to be paid.
"When I spoke with them they said they’d paid but they didn’t send the receipts," he said.
"The news that they haven’t paid other people doesn’t surprise me."
Popescu did not respond to the allegations from Novacampo in email correspondence, but did give his perspective on the issue with Garden Herbs.
"Garden Herbs is no longer a supplier of ours but I do recall a dispute at the time given damage [sic] product received. That was addressed and closed some years ago," he said.
Goldenberries, referred to as physalis in Europe, are also known as cape gooseberries.