In China, avocados are still relatively unknown among consumers. They, therefore, need to be promoted a lot. They also still have a long way to go. However, this product's popularity is growing, and its potential is enormous.
The Dutch company, FruitMax, is based in Shanghai, China. This company imports fruit for the Chinese market. They then sell them under their own brand name, FruitMax. Since last year, they have started specializing more with avocados. They focus on selling these to restaurants. Jaap Pees of FruitMax has this to say about their first year. “It was a year of lots of falling and getting back up again. Of trying and adapting, and continuously improving. But, in the beginning, we did not expect we would eventually develop so quickly. We managed to gain quite a share in the market in a short time.”
The first steps
Last year was the first time Fruitmax supplied avocados in China. One of their clients requested this product. "It was a chef here in Shanghai. He had ordered Dutch beets from us in the past. He was asking if we could help him with avocados. They had a lot of avocado dishes on their menu at that time. They were, therefore, reliant on a stable supply of avocados that were also of the correct ripeness."
"They were, however, struggling to find this steady supply. From then, we began working with this chef. We started testing and trying different avocados every week. Along with the chefs, we looked at things like ripeness, country of origin, storage, supply frequency, etc. Together, after a few months, we finally found avocados that had the correct ripeness and quality. We then also had a suitable ordering and supply system," says Jaap.
At FruitMax, they then tested this formula on several other restaurants in Shanghai. They realized this way of delivery was catching on. There was also a growing demand for avocados and things then gained momentum. Jaap and his team approached other restaurants, referred by word-of-mouth. These establishments allowed them to try out this delivery method with them too.
“We have a start-up and test phase at each new restaurant. We work with the kitchen staff on a new system, tailor-made for avocados," explains Jaap. “This usually takes a little while. Most restaurants are used to having a single fruit and vegetable supplier. Every restaurant uses avocados for different dishes and applications as well. For example, cubed, sliced, or as guacamole or for smoothies."
"We have currently found the right match with the avocados we use. This is combined with their land of origin and the various ripening rooms we can use. We started supplying more and more restaurants with avocados. As we did so, we became better at creating and fine-tuning a tailor-made program for each establishment. That was possible because we had an ever-increasing frame of reference."
Avocados' quality guarantee
The correct ripeness and quality must first be found. It is then up to the restaurant to store the avocados properly. "It is a continual process and a true collaboration with the restaurants. That is what makes it great. We learn from each other. The chefs give their input, and, together, we try new things. We are centrally located in the city. We can, therefore, easily reach all the restaurants. We do daily deliveries ourselves too," continues Pees.
"In this way, we keep in constant contact with the chefs. If needs be, we can co-manage or adjust things. After all, avocados remain a natural product. It is, therefore, difficult to give guarantees. But, we can, however, limit the risks as much as possible. This is then combined with the right cooperation and coordination with the chefs. We, as the supplier, can guarantee that our clients can exchange any avocados that are not to their liking."
Chinese avocado market
Compared to other large countries, China's avocado sales market is still a relatively small, niche one. "What, of course, makes it attractive is its enormous potential. It is also interesting to see at which stage avocados now find themselves in China. Since last year, we have seen the increase in popularity of “ready to eat” avocados in the supermarkets."
"People are becoming more aware of avocados' healthy properties. They are also learning how to prepare them. We must, however, not forget that here, we are talking mainly of the large cities in China. There is still a long way to go," says Jaap.
“This counts for us as a young business too. We are a small team and do everything ourselves - from selection to ripening to packing to daily deliveries on our scooters. At the same time, this is our strength. In this way, we can learn to understand the market even better. We are learning to anticipate its needs. The demand and quick development, however, really surprised us."
"We are now looking at which follow-up steps we will be taking. We need to expand logistically as well as concerning the avocados' quality and ripening. We are also in search of a permanent group of farmers. They must commit to us. Together we can further develop ourselves on the Chinese market,” Jaap adds.
“At the moment, we supply mainly Chilean avocados. The season will begin soon in Peru. That was a good season for us last year. Mexico is important to us too. We hope to deal with them in the course of the year again. And then, hopefully, we can also add Colombian avocados to our supply this year."
“We will go to Fruit Logistica in Berlin this year again. We are looking forward to talking to growers from the different countries," concludes Jaap.