As the second-busiest container port in the United States, the Port of Long Beach in California received over 339 000 inbound TEUs (20-foot-equivalent units) last month, its busiest October in history.
November, equally, could be marked as historic with the Port receiving its first-ever container of Colombia-grown Hass avocados, destined for the fresh produce aisles of US retailer Walmart.
While the average consumer will give little thought to this fruit’s 3752-nautical-mile journey – from Cartagena Port in the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up the North Pacific coast past Mexico – the provenance of this ever-popular ‘superfood’ nevertheless bears significance for both US consumers and the retailers tasked with meeting their insatiable demand for avocado toast and creamy Super Bowl snacks.
The US currently relies on neighbouring Mexico for around 82% of its avocado supply, according to the Hass Avocado Board. But tough NAFTA talks with the US have led Mexico in recent months to not only relook its existing free trade agreement with the EU (the world’s second-largest avocado market), but also to seriously pursue trade ties with China – whose growing middle class is demonstrating a similar propensity for ‘avoddiction’.
With drought-stricken California unable to cover any significant supply shortfalls that could ultimately result, retailers would no doubt look to close any gaps by increasing imports from other approved origins, including Peru, Chile and the Dominican Republic. Now Colombia can be added to that list, accompanied by enviable features such as its closer proximity to the US than its South American rivals, its ability to produce Hass at least ten months of the year, and its well-established transport and logistics schemes (thanks in large part to the local banana industry).
Sustainable supply chain commitments
“Securing an uninterrupted supply of quality fresh avocados through the year and especially at times of high demand is of significant importance to our retail customers,” says Julián Muñoz, Vice President of Sourcing at Westfalia Fruit USA. The operation, headquartered in Camarillo in California, will receive and check the fruit at their partner facility in Fillmore Piru before packing it for retail stores. Ripening services are also being added to the mix.
Most large retail groups have high expectations of their suppliers and associated facilities in terms of their social and environmental sustainability, and conduct regular audits and investigations into supply chain conditions.
“A sustainable food supply chain gives consumers transparency into how their produce is grown, which is another important factor in the retail sector today,” Muñoz adds. “While we play a crucial role in providing supply security to our customers, we are also tasked with working continuously towards reducing the environmental impact of our agricultural practices”.
These are areas in which many Colombian avocado suppliers are beginning to make their mark, says Pedro Aguilar, GM of Westfalia in Colombia, whose container of Hass arrived at California’s Long Beach port on Tuesday 14 November.
GlobalGAP auditors have certified many of Westfalia’s growers that demonstrate the requisite standards for on-farm food safety and sustainability. One such farm is La Estancia del Viento, located in close proximity to Westfalia’s Colombian packhouse. Owned and run by Juan Zuluaga and his wife Claudia Mendez, the farm is currently being monitored to determine if fruit production meets the stringent export requirements laid out by the USDA and ICA, including pest-control protocols.
Both the farm and the Westfalia packhouse were visited recently by US Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, who showed considerable interest in the export process and was impressed by the level of control and professionalism seen at the premises.
Rapid expansion of Colombian production capacity
The benefits of such positive developments are likely to be felt by the entire Colombian avocado industry, whose Hass exports are expected to reach US$60 million FOB value by December this year. Producers are demonstrating their faith in the industry’s future by planting more trees; approximately 16,000 hectares are currently planted to avocado, with production areas growing at a rate of 15% annually (2,000 hectares per year).
“With the opening up of the US market, it is expected that the industry will grow up to 30,000 hectares within the next four to five years,” predicts Aguilar, who adds that foreign investment in new growing regions is also on the rise, with orchards being established even in areas previously affected by “the conflict”.
From a socio-economic perspective, the Colombian avocado industry creates close on 26,000 permanent jobs in the rural areas, and during harvest times this figure can double.
For more information:
Westfalia Fruit USA