José Luis Blanco, manager of Blasco Fruits:

"Only specialists and professionals will survive in the kaki business"

The Spanish kaki campaign has not got off to a good start for many Valencian producers, who have seen their crops severely damaged by frost and hail storms. In fact, the Spanish production will be reduced by around 40% due to these climatic adversities. For the time being, however, the production areas of the high Palancia, in the interior of Castellón, have not been affected. This is the place where the plantations of Blasco Fruit are located.

This campaign, the Valencian company has launched new facilities with state-of-the-art technology for the reception, handling and packaging of kakis. FreshPlaza visited these facilities and interviewed José Luis Blasco, manager of Blasco Fruit, who has more than 35 years of experience in the cultivation and sale of kakis, and Cecilia Taboada, commercial director.

Cecilia Taboada and José Luis Blasco.

"The lack of volume will be remarkable this year, as even though there are new plantations entering into production in Spain, they will not be enough to compensate for the volume losses," says the entrepreneur. However, despite the notable lack of production, prices in the market are still sinking. "The large cooperatives which handle a great share of Spain's kaki production, are flooding the European markets at open prices without proper planning, causing a price collapse that is affecting everyone in the sector," he explains.

For this company, the kaki season starts in September with the harvest of a local variety known as Tomatero, which gets its name because of its intense reddish color. "Tomatero kakis have been traditionally grown in this area. It is a smaller kaki compared to the Rojo Brillante and stands out for its red skin, reminiscent of tomatoes. Its flesh is very sweet, with a more tender texture; in fact, it can be eaten with a spoon when it reaches its optimum ripeness," explains Cecilia Taboada, of the sales department of Blasco Fruit.

Tomatero kakis.

"The cooperatives of the area stopped marketing it for years because it hardly generated any profits when compared with other fruits. We are one of the few companies that managed to sell and export this kaki variety as a gourmet product. It currently accounts for about 15% of our total volume," she adds.

According to José Luis Blasco, the expansion of kaki cultivation in Spain has gone out of control in recent years, and that is why the market is under increasing pressure. It is a context in which only the most experienced may be able to survive.

"There have hardly been any controls on the growth of the kaki acreage, and this is something that usually happens in this country. When something seems to be working, many give it a try without having the necessary knowledge. Last year, the oversupply at certain times of the campaign resulted in average prices of up to 15 cents per kilo in the worst cases, which does not even cover the production costs. This year, due to the impact of frost and hail, the market could be more balanced, but if the volume is back to normal next year, a disaster could ensue," says the producer and exporter. "For this reason, some growers are already abandoning the crop prematurely. In the future, only specialists and professionals will remain in this business."

Although it will be difficult to replace the loss of the Russian market, which was very important for the kaki sector, as it absorbed around 30% of the total exports, the Valencian company is diversifying its markets in several continents. "In addition to Europe, we are opening markets in Scandinavia, North America and Latin America, with destinations such as Canada, the United States, Peru or Colombia. These are countries where kakis are still unknown and where interest in them is on the rise, so we see that there is potential. In Asia, we are growing in markets such as Hong Kong and we hope to have an export protocol for China approved soon. That country is already familiar with kakis and consumers there appreciate our variety a lot. It could be a great market for us."

The sector is still looking for new kaki varieties, and although interesting varieties are appearing, their organoleptic qualities don't come close to those of the Rojo Brillante and they fail to fulfill one of the main objectives: to extend the harvest season.

"We are reaching the limit when it comes to extending the kaki harvest period, which so far has been possible thanks to advances in post-harvest solutions and the implementation of better cultivation techniques. A few years ago, we were finishing the campaign in early December and now we are able to market the product until March," says José Luis Blasco, who believes that Peru may be an interesting origin in order to extend the campaign. In fact, some Spanish companies are already making investments in this country with such a purpose.

According to José Luís Blasco, kakis are a good, delicious and attractive product, easy to eat and with numerous health benefits. "There is still a long way to go in the kaki sector, but things have to be done right. For example, the campaign should always start with kakis with high enough sugar levels and the ideal coloration to ensure their success and allow the entire chain to keep prices profitable for all. Likewise, a good campaign planning is necessary to prevent moments of oversupply, especially in the first stages of the campaign."


For more information:
Cecilia Taboada
Blasco Fruit S.L.
T: +34 964 108453
M: +34 665508676

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