In the wake of the growth which established exotics such as avocados and mangoes, the assortment of truly exotic products is also growing. Jackfruit, okra and durian are just three products which are becoming more familiar. Francis Trading is specialised in trading exotics. With the help of Martin Francis, we put three exotics in the spotlight: jackfruit, okra and durian.
“Exotics are becoming more widely available and consumers are becoming more familiar with these products,” says Martin. “If you compare fresh produce shelves in supermarkets nowadays to what they looked like ten years ago, you would see many more exotics.” And although the majority would still be the more familiar products, such as sweet potato and vegetables from Surinam, the truly exotic products are profiting from the increasing interest in the segment.
The market for jackfruit has started to recover again in recent weeks. “We import jackfruit from Malaysia through my uncle, who has an export company there,” Martin explained in the last week of November. “In recent weeks we had some quality problems, but the market is now recovering again. Good volumes are available.” In the summer months, jackfruit often has quality problems. This is a recurring problem, and not much can be done about it. Because of the summer in the Netherlands, and the high temperatures in Malaysia, the fruit matures much quicker, and arrives in the Netherlands overripe. “This results in the fruit getting spots on the skin. This is not a bad thing, but it does not look very nice.” That is why the fruit is harder to sell during those weeks. The jackfruit has to be picked ripe, however. “If you pick the fruit too soon, there is a chance of it not ripening at all, or that it is not sweet enough,” Martin adds. “That is therefore a risk factor.” The large, yellowish fruit is picked ripe from the trees and then flown to the Netherlands.
Francis Trading also imports, among other things, purple mangosteen and salak from Indonesia and Malaysia. India also has a lot of product available. Martin explains that he imports okra from Indonesia. The season lasts from September/October until May/June. In the intervening months he has supply from Jordan. Additionally, there is also okra on the market from Latin America. “Okra is advancing,” Martin says. In general, he sees exotic fruits are doing better than exotic vegetables. “Fruit is easier to use,” is one of the reasons according to him. Wide availability of information on products and recipes using exotics via the internet also boosts consumption.
“Much has been invested in production and quality there. They deliver a good product,” Martin says about India. The investments go one step further: the government has also set up strict inspections for export products. The products are inspected to European standards, and subsequently inspected again upon arrival in Europe. “This used to be a bit of a problem in the past, but nowadays there is a double inspection. If the products do not need meet requirements in India, they cannot be exported.” Other countries in Southeastern Asia, including Thailand and Malaysia, have set up similar strict inspections as well.
The company in Poeldijk, the Netherlands, will also soon start receiving durians. This eccentric fruit has a pungent smell. “We used to have neighbours in our old building who thought we had a gas leak, but it was the durian,” Martin says. Precautions, therefore, have to be made for the transportation. Firstly, the number of airlines willing to fly the durian is limited. Additionally, white bread is placed with the durian in the box to absorb the smell. The fruit is then placed in a styrofoam box and completely sealed shut. “The durian is an acquired taste.” Texture and flavour are hard to describe.
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