The Ecuadorian dragon fruit industry is preparing to send its first shipments to the U.S. market in September, amid hopes it will be able to offer consumers a different variety to what is typically available.
U.S. authorities announced in June they would allow imports of the tropical crop, also known as pitahaya, more than a year after comments closed on a proposed rule. Shipments will take place under a systems approach.
The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) will allow imports from pre-approved regions, including Palora where around 65-75% of national production is based.
Ecuadorian Fresh Fruit Exporters Association (AEFFEC) president Manuel Mantilla told Fresh Fruit Portal four regions were being monitored to assess whether fruit could be exported using a systems approach.
He believed the U.S market had great commercial potential and logistically it was viable to reach a range of destinations.
“We are carrying out campaigns to promote our super foods, both dragon fruit and golden berries, which we see have potential to be marketed through the U.S. East and West Coasts, where there are niche markets that look for this kind of specialized products that have health benefits,” he said.
While Mantilla said dragon fruit was already known in the U.S., he pointed out the supply was predominantly made up of the red variety imported from Central America (red with red flesh) and Vietnam (red with white flesh).
Ecuador grows various cultivars, but its most common by far is the yellow pitahaya.
“The consumer has knowledge about this product, but not necessarily the yellow variety,” Mantilla said.
“This gives us a competitive advantage since the yellow dragon fruit…has much larger sizes, higher Brix levels, and a high vitamin C content.”
There are currently around 1,000 hectares of dragon fruit production in Ecuador.
Mantilla noted exports had grown from just 40 metric tons (MT) around four years ago to 500MT in 2016.
“We are definitely seeing a production boom. We began with seven exporters and now there are 42 registered,” he said.
“We have also been diversifying the markets. Canada is currently a very attractive market, and Europe too. Asia is the most important, receiving around 90% of our exports,” he said.
“Canada has very good consumption, but obviously it doesn’t have the magnitude of the U.S.”
He added exports to Europe had been limited as the market required growers to be GlobalG.A.P.-certified, which could only be said for three producers at the moment.