The popularity of dragon fruit in the U.S. has been increasing the past few years and this has led to an expansion of the fruit’s production in Latin American countries. Florida-based Freshway Produce, Inc. imports their dragon fruit primarily from Ecuador, and received this season’s first shipment of white dragon fruit at the end of December 2019.
The company’s CEO Jose Roggiero says: “Our first week of imports began at the end of December with the white dragon fruit. There was a slight delay in the season due to cold temperatures in Ecuador, but the December weather was much more suitable for dragon fruit production with mild nights and hot days. This helped tremendously with the flowering and the growth of the fruit, so while there was a delay at the start of the season, the volumes and quality fortunately weren’t affected.”
Growth opportunities for Ecuador
Ecuador has a very interesting position on the market for dragon fruit, Roggiero explains. “The fruit imported into the U.S. from Ecuador does not have to be fumigated, so for consumers this might make Ecuador a more attractive origin than the fruit from Vietnam. The transit times are a lot shorter too than most other origins – it can be next-day by air freight or seven days by ocean container. This means we can bring fresher fruit to the markets.”
He adds: “Ecuador has diverse and distinct microclimates, and many of the dragon fruit farms are still young so as they start to mature their yields will increase. These two things will make it so that in the next few years Ecuador will be producing higher yields every year, and will have the opportunity to extend its season and produce for more months.”
Two varieties with growing demand
Freshway Produce imports two varieties of dragon fruit from Ecuador: the white fleshed variety, and the yellow variety. The white dragon fruit’s season began at the end of December and will last through May, with some lower and more limited production throughout the rest of the year.
The white flesh variety is the most popular at the moment but Roggiero says that the yellow variety is gaining momentum every day. “The popularity of the yellow dragon fruit variety is due to its sweetness. The white dragon fruit has brix levels between 12-14, but the yellow variety can have brix levels between 18-22. This variety runs from January through April, and has some limited production from September through December.”
“Overall demand in the U.S. is good, but the supplies are still limited. During the next few months we should be able to help fulfill the demand as the seasons get well underway. We also import from Central America and buy from local growers here in Florida to help provide a year-round supply and supplement the volumes from Ecuador. We don’t offer year-round supply yet, but that is our ultimate goal,” he explains.
High December pricing expected to decrease soon
With the bulk of the season starting in early February, the market at the end of December was experiencing some high prices due to limited supplies. Roggiero says: “At the end of December, there was some relatively high prices on the market. There will always be less expensive options though, but these come with lower quality as well. As more volumes will arrive out of Ecuador in the coming few weeks, we expect pricing to go down.”
Biggest strength is vertical integration
The company works directly with growers, throughout its state of the art operation in Ecuador that packs tropical roots and exotic fruits. “We are extremely proud of our team for its accomplishment of being the first packing house in Ecuador to achieve Primus GFS 3.0 certification for dragon fruit. Our growers are Global Gap certified, and we have a very close partnership with them that guarantee us their production throughout the season. As a result, this will ensure to our clients a program with food safety, high quality and reliability in supply” Roggiero concludes.