Potential U.S. pomegranate market access "great news" for Turkey
Turkish shippers are delighted U.S. authorities have proposed allowing fresh pomegranate imports, although companies in both countries say future plans will largely rely on the final export protocols.
In an announcement last week, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reported it was publishing a proposed rule that would allow imports under a systems approach.
Alanar general manager Hamdi Taner told www.freshfruitportal.com this was a big development for the industry.
"It’s great new for Turkey because the United States has a big population and consumption of pomegranates," he said.
"We need to analyze the procedures in detail but we will do this in one month's time because at the moment we are in the middle of our cherry and apricot season."
The Turkish pomegranate harvest is due to start around late September or early October, he said.
Taner highlighted the Wonderful variety was by far the most popular in the U.S., whereas more than 90% of Turkish pomegranate production corresponded to Hijaz - a tougher and lighted-skinner variety.
But he said Alanar had imported Wonderful trees a little more than a decade ago, last year producing around 1,000 metric tons (MT). The company also markets other varieties like Hijaz sourced from local growers.
"I know that the United States also grows Wonderful varieties so I think it will be a good opportunity for our company," he said, adding Hijaz may also be shipped.
"When we have a chance to start the first shipments, we will do test shipments at first and after arrival if everything goes well then we will continue to supply."
However, he emphasized the company would initially be more focused on the export procedures than deciding which variety to export.
Taner believed the U.S. could one day become a significant market for Turkey if exporters "do the right job".
"We don’t think that it is correct to find a new market to push a lot of volume. We need to be patient, see the results and then we can continue," he said
"First of all we have to convince everyone that we can do this business. At this moment Russia and Europe are taking huge quantities of pomegranate, so I think in the first years in terms of volume United States will be much less than other markets, but in the future there is big potential."
The proximity of the European and Russian markets means most exporters will continue to favor these destinations, according to Taner. He added many may not have the sophisticated machinery that will likely be necessary to be eligible for export to the U.S.
He also did not see the transit time or associated cost as an issue, commenting that Alanar had successfully shipped pomegranates greater distances to the likes of Hong Kong in the past.
The representative also explained it may be a challenge for Turkish pomegranate exporters to compete with the high quality locally grown fruit in the U.S., but pointed out lower production costs could give them an advantage.
Price will be "most important issue"
Meanwhile, the head of Turkish pomegranate company Alnar Narcilik Ltd also welcomed the news, explaining he had been contacted before by U.S. importers who were keen to source fruit.
Managing director İbrahim Kahramanoğlu did however believe the cost of transportation and consequent higher price may hinder the fruit's competitiveness in the market, adding exporters would need to time their shipments carefully so as not to overlap too much with local supply.
But he noted although the Turkish harvest wrapped up around November, fruit could keep well in cold storage well until March or even April the following year.
"For the first year I don’t think to have much volume because the variety that is being produced in Turkey is different to the one in the U.S.," he said.
"If we get a good reaction from the consumers then this could increase in the coming season, but from the beginning we don’t expect high amounts. The price will be the most important issue but we cannot predict what will happen with that."
Kahramanoğlu also pointed out an increasing number of Turkish growers had been adopting improved agricultural practices, helping to boost the quality and reduce pesticide residues.
Competitive pressure with local fruit "unlikely"
News of the import proposal has also been received well by major U.S. pomegranate company Ruby Fresh.
Domestic sales manager of the California-based grower-shipper, David Anthony, told Fresh Fruit Portal the company would consider the introduction of Turkish pomegranates into the U.S. as a positive development overall.
"The USA fresh pomegranate market is in peak production from October through December generally. My understanding is that the imported fruit from Turkey would arrive near the end of December through about March," he said.
"So this would fill the supply gaps experienced as the California season begins to draw down on fresh supplies and it would also enhance a seamless supply of arils during the early Winter months, prior to the arrival of South American pomegranates."
He said Ruby Fresh would include Turkish pomegranates in its plans if the fruit met its quality and food safety requirements.
Another important factor was that the entry protocol be either cold treatment or the systems approach, he added, explaining numerous major retailers still prohibited sales of irradiated produce.
Anthony went on to say there could be some competitive pressure if fruit were to arrive during the peak months of October through December, but commented in his experience this was unlikely for several reasons.
"One, produce buyers will have to absorb the cost for ocean shipment or air freight into the price point, and two, most buyers prefer a domestic supply over an import supply in every situation," he said.
"Three, if however Turkey could offer a larger supply of organic pomegranates, that could put pressure on USA suppliers since the California organic pomegranate crop is in a demand-exceeds-supply situation each of the last 10 previous seasons that I am aware of."