Ecuadorian grower positions yellow pitahaya as functional food
While fresh pitahayas from Ecuador are now allowed in the U.S. and soon will be able to enter the mainland Chinese market, grower Organpit is also betting on the growing market for dried fruit.
Speaking with Fresh Fruit Portal during the Amsterdam Produce Show & Conference this month, Organpit export manager Bayron Ortiz discussed a range of developments taking place at his company, based in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
"Our reason for being here in Amsterdam is that there’s a trend towards consumption of functional foods," he said.
"The yellow pitahaya is a functional fruit because it helps people’s digestive systems. The seeds have a laxative oil that through consumption helps people with gastrointestinal problems," he added of the crop which is also known as dragon fruit.
"We are happy because we have very interested customers, because on an international level there is a trend towards dried fruit. For example, people watching television with potato chips, they can do the same but with dried fruit...health has an added value."
Organpit set up a factor to produce the dried produce in order to have year-round sales, given the fresh fruit is seasonal.
"In Ecuador our main market is the supermarkets for people in higher income brackets, and we can sell at attractive prices. We’re looking to do the same in Europe and the United States, where there are segments of the population looking for functional food," he says, adding the company's largest market in fresh fruit exports Singapore is also a major buyer of the dried pitahaya.
He said 90% of sales were still through exports of fresh pitahayas, with Canada, Malaysia and Hong Kong as other leading markets.
"The European market has been open for more than 10 years. The greatest amount of consumption takes place in November and December as in Europe it’s seen as a seasonal fruit; we are very content right now because obviously we're get closer to the period of more fruit shipments," Ortiz said.
"On the other hand the Asian market is one that consumes fruit constantly...in January next year Ecuador will have free access to the Chinese mainland market. Now we are limited and can only send to Hong Kong.
"The United States market opened 1.5 months ago. It's been very intense and we’ve sent very representative shipments all weeks."
Ortiz said the Ecuadorian yellow pitahaya commanded a strong price premium, due to what he claimed was a better flavor than competing supply.
"Definitely the quality is associated with price, and the yellow pitahaya has a superior quality to the red, not just in Brix levels or sweetness, but in the texture of the flesh and the shelf life," he said.
"It lasts much longer than the red. For example this fruit you see here was harvested 26 days ago and it looks like it was harvested yesterday.
"The fruit we are presenting belongs to the Ecuadorian Amazon – it hasn’t been brought from anywhere else, it’s not a hybrid. It’s something we found in the Amazon.
"Our farm has been around close to 20 years, and the farm is probably the largest in the Amazonia. My father started this almost 22 years ago and we try to represent it in the best way."
He also claimed that while the Colombian yellow pitahaya was similar in color, the texture is different and he believed shelf life was longer for the Ecuadorian product.