Westfalia Fruit is planning to ramp up production of avocados from Colombia over the coming years, amid expectations the country will become a major supplier to the U.S. and other world markets.
The South Africa-headquartered multinational has been operating in Colombia since 2012 and now owns two large, modern packhouses. Along with its own avocados, it packs and markets fruit from third-party growers.
Today, Westfalia is the main foreign investor in Hass avocados in Colombia and has brought to the region technical expertise as well as advanced plant IP in the form of superior rootstocks, the company says.
At the World Avocado Congress in Colombia, FreshFruitPortal.com spoke to Pedro Aguilar, General Manager of Westfalia Fruit Colombia.
"Westfalia currently has 130,000 trees planted in high-density orchards," he said. This number will likely double in the short-to-medium term.
"We will plant another 100,000 or so trees in the next few months, bringing the total to between 200,000 and 250,000 trees," he said. He noted that, given the logistical complexity of the region, producers should be prudent and avoid planting excessive volumes that might not be easily absorbed.
Within a few years, Aguilar estimated that the company would be exporting around 10,000 to 15,000 metric tons (MT) of fruit coming from its own orchards, plus an additional 15,000 metric tons coming from third-party growers.
"That is something that we can easily absorb with our packing capacity," he said. "We will also be in a position to offer packing capacity to other avocado producers, as part of our world-class service to our partner growers.”
Westfalia's growth in the country will come in tandem with growth in the Colombian avocado industry in general. Aguilar predicted total Colombian exports would grow by at least 30% annually and hit 100,000MT within five years.
Numerous markets to be targeted
While the Colombian avocado industry remains heavily focused on the European market, Aguilar foresees his operation increasing its exports to the U.S. in due course, not only because it’s the largest avocado market but also because of its geographic proximity.
"Our transit times are less than a week, and in fact we can deliver one day earlier than Mexico when exporting to the U.S. East coast."
He added that Colombia still has work to do in order to master the export requirements for the U.S. Similar levels of compliance apply for the Chinese and Japanese markets, which both opened for Colombian avocados this year.
"It’s all related, so once we master these phytosanitary protocols, we will be able to consistently serve the U.S. and Asian markets," he said. Other markets the operation will likely supply include South America and Canada, he explained.
Westfalia says that as a multinational group, its focus is on servicing all geographic markets, harnessing its global footprint and integrated value chain in order to deliver customers with quality produce around the year, together with superior levels of service and a commitment to sustainable practices.
Colombia's future role as an avocado supplier
Colombia is also likely to become a reliable year-round avocado supplier, complementing volumes from Mexico.
"Colombia will never replace Mexico – that is not the objective," Aguilar said. "I think Colombia should be a good plan B for the U.S., a reliable source with more stable commercial conditions.
"The constant changes within the Mexican industry can be challenging for the trade, especially for retailers and consumers. So I think Colombia could provide more stable conditions with certain volumes for the future.
“I have no doubt in my mind that, in the next few years, the U.S. market will be the most important target market for Colombian avocados."
Photos: Courtesy of Westfalia