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Airfreight exotics, specialism on niche market

Exotics are a niche market, but airfreight exotics are a niche within a niche. Yet this is the specialism of Torres Tropical from Barendrecht, the Netherlands. “Eighty per cent of what we do is air cargo,” says Marcel van Rooijen. That transport is expensive, but also results in advantages.

Papaya is one of the exotics showing growth in the extensive assortment. Between 35 and 40 pallets with mixes of Formosa and Golden papaya arrive every week. This volume is nothing compared to the figures reported for mango and lime. These two products are good for roughly 70 per cent of volume on an annual basis. “Papaya continues to be a special market, and it won’t become a volume product,” Marcel expects. “The shelf life of papayas is too short for that, and the fruit is unknown in Europe.” Demand continues to rise, but not as rapidly as, for example, demand for limes and mangoes some years ago.

Seaborne cargo not an option
In the final weeks of November, supply of papaya from Brazil showed a slump. “The papaya market is very dependent on the weather. Because of rain, supply declined, but I expect this will have recovered in two weeks for Formosa and Golden,” Marcel says in the final week of November.

Besides papaya, mango and lime, Torres Tropical also imports other exotics, particularly from Latin America. The company also imports, for instance, figs and guava from Brazil. From Ecuador and Colombia, the assortment is supplemented with grenadillas, red and yellow pitaya, maracuja and tamarillo. In short: the proper exotics.

“We’re specialised in air cargo, because we want to supply a perfect flavour and presentation,” Marcel explains. Because of this starting point, seaborne cargo, which means the fruit is in transit for several weeks, isn’t an option. He uses papaya as an example: “The papayas in Europe show considerable differences in quality. Sometimes papayas are harvested when they’re still unripe enough to still have white pips; a ripened fruit has black pips.” Despite techniques in ripening chambers, it’s then practically impossible to ripen the fruit properly.

Air cargo: ripened on trees or not?
However, differences in quality of ripened fruit arriving in Europe via air cargo can also be seen. Mango growers in Brazil harvest the mangoes at one particularly moment, after which part is immediately shipped, while another part is ripened in ripening chambers before being flown to Europe. Growers in Peru do things completely differently. They leave part of the harvest ripening on the trees, after which the fruit is harvested when ripe and flown to Europe. “The flavour of airplane mangoes from Peru is completely different. Our customers hold the Peruvian mangoes in higher regard,” Marcel says.

Torres Tropical is therefore focused on the higher segment, varying from catering and hotel suppliers to supermarkets. “They’re customers who are willing to pay more for a good product,” Marcel explains. Interest from retailers is also increasing. “They’ve seen that consumers return for products with a good flavour with the ready-to-eat mangoes.”

Organic and Fairtrade
Untreated or organic products and Fairtrade are more and more in demand. “Mango, limes and ginger,” Marcel sums up three products with rising demand for organic production. For limes and papaya, Fairtrade plays an important part. “Consumers are looking for a product with a fair price for producers increasingly often.”

Important for this trend are French supermarkets and the Swiss market. For the production of exotics, which is often spread across a large number of small growers, this bar is high. “For products such as mango, lime and papaya it’s doable, but for the smaller exotics it’s almost impossible, because an exporter in Ecuador, for example, buys the products from a large number of growers.”

The exotics find their way to customers throughout Europe. “Surprisingly, it’s mostly consumers in Southern European countries rather than in the Northern European ones who are willing to pay more for a niche product,” Marcel concludes. “This is due to the specific requirements consumers place on the fruit as well.”

More information:

Torres Tropical
Marcel van Rooijen  

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