December is one of the months when Florida-grown passionfruit are available in the US. Although the fruit does grow year round, commercial production rotates between Florida and California throughout the year.
"We have passionfruit available at the moment," shared Bob Petrucci of Fresh Gardens in Homestead Florida. "It is in fact a year round item but Florida production peaks during the months of April, May and June, as well as November, December and January. When Florida is out, California is in production, so it swings back and forth during the course of the year."
Costly and difficult to grow
Growers say they enjoy growing and offering passionfruit. However, the challenge lies in that it is a costly and difficult fruit to grow. The difficulty is related to the fact that passionfruit grows on a vine and the vines need to be taken out and replaced frequently to have any commercially viable volume. This is also labor-intensive, the cost of which is something many US growers are struggling with. Petrucci said an additional cost is the cost of land.
Possum purple - the most common variety grown in Florida
"To grow passionfruit requires between $60,000 - $100,000 per acre in land costs," he explained. "Additionally, growers have to pull out the vine and replace it every two years for commercial production, as yield drops significantly after the first two years. This is costly and also rather troublesome. We think it's a great item to grow, however there are not many people growing them due to the costs. I would estimate there are less than 100 acres of commercial production in the whole state of Florida."
Petrucci continued by highlighting the different varieties most commonly available, including the yellow passionfruit, of which Petrucci was one of the first to bring to South Florida. "Some growers offer the large purple passionfruit because the US market is usually more receptive to large-sized fruit," he said. "We grow the Possum Purple variety which is smaller in size, yet sweeter. This is the main variety but we also grow yellow passionfruit, which I helped introduce to South Florida from Hawaii."
"Selling fruit online is the most profitable"
Meanwhile, the passionfruit market is good, which producers say is partly due to the fact there is such limited volume. They are usually shipped in flat pack boxes by counts. "Commercially, we pack passionfruit in counts of 10, 15, 20 and so forth, shipping them in flat packs," Petrucci pointed out. "The market is generally always good because they are in demand and not many people grow them, especially when California is out of season. Prices are typically between $35 and $50 per flat pack tray."
Therefore the market is there, but according to Petrucci, his company achieves the highest profitability directly through website sales. Fresh Gardens ships all manner of tropical fruit to customers across the US using the website and passionfruit is one of them, with the company shipping them in either 5lb or 10lb boxes.
"Selling them directly to the customer through the website is the most profitable way to sell passionfruit for us," Petrucci shared. "We have a fixed shipping cost and can ship our fruit over much of the US. The only difficulty for us at the moment is the promotion as we currently don't own the website we use, although we are working on developing our own."
Ecuador to shake up US passionfruit industry?
If Florida growers already had a difficult time establishing a viable passionfruit industry, things may get challenging for them. Florida growers are reporting that Ecuador may receive the green light to export more passionfruit into the US, something they fear might damage the local industry should it occur.
"We are hearing that Ecuador might be getting rights to export a greater quantity of passionfruit to the United States," Petrucci observed. "They are one of the largest passionfruit exporters in the world so this could have severe consequences for Florida growers. We saw this happen with dragon fruit this year. Even before Ecuadorian dragon fruit began arriving into the US, prices were much lower and once it came, the market was terrible. It's not really something that Florida growers need right now at a time when many are selling their land and giving up farming."