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Exotic produce consumption driven by multiculturalism, unrestricted imports and logistics
"For the longest time, exotics have been playing an important role in Eastern Canada,” says George Pitsikoulis with Canadawide, based in Montreal. Over the years, many exotic produce items have become mainstream. “I remember when avocados and Maradol papayas were called exotics. When we say exotic, we think of rare produce varieties in small volumes and grown far away. Avocados and papayas are certainly not that anymore.” Mangos have become mainstream as well. In the past, there were two varieties available. Nowadays, there are so many different varieties and different sourcing countries. “It adds to the excitement of what we do,” shared Pitsikoulis.
Multiculturalism and traveling
What drives the increased availability and demand for exotic produce varieties? “When I speak for Eastern Canada, multiculturalism is a key driver,” said Pitsikoulis. “In this part of the country, people tend to hold on to their original culture more than in other parts of Canada.”
Furthermore, Canadians like to travel and during their trips, they get exposed to exotic fruit and vegetable varieties. The Caribbean for instance is a favored destination of Canadians and when people return home, they ask for produce varieties they were introduced to when traveling.
Unrestricted import requirements
In addition to consumer demand, exotic fruit and vegetables are also widely available in Canada because of the country’s almost unrestricted import requirements. “We don’t grow many exotic produce varieties here, which makes it easier to import.” In the US, regulations are much more strict as the country grows many exotic varieties itself that are susceptible to diseases. In addition, imports are restricted to protect local growers.
There’s also greater availability due to improved logistics. “The process of importing fresh produce has been simplified,” mentioned Pitsikoulis. Airlines have become experienced with handling fresh produce and sea freight has improved as well. “This helps with building out the offering.”
True exotic items
Avocados, mangos and papayas have become mainstream, but what produce varieties are still considered exotic? “Dragon fruit is an example, although becoming more mainstream,” said Pitsikoulis. “We used to import in small quantities, but today we import by container loads.” The same holds true for finger limes. “The first time we heard of them, we brought a handful of boxes in. Now, we ship a pallet each time we are loading the product. “We also see a trend of local growers starting to experiment with exotic produce varieties. Bitter Melon, Indian eggplant and tomatillos are items we used to source from a small grower in Mexico. Today, they are also locally available, in season.”
Canadawide offers more than 1,400 sku’s and it is the company’s objective to carry every single fresh fruit and vegetable item available in the world. “We aim to be the first one to go to market with a new product.”
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