‘Yuca’, or cassava, may not yet be at the top of every European consumer’s shopping list. However, Costa Rican producer TropiFoods is excited to see this star product gaining ground in Europe’s supermarkets, restaurants and kitchens. Mashed, fried or baked, the tropical root vegetable fits many popular diets, including paleo, vegan and gluten-free – not to mention its role as a key ingredient in one of the latest global sensations: bubble tea.
TropiFoods is a Costa Rican family business that has been producing cassava for 30 years as a specialty, ethnic ingredient. Today, the versatile tuber is the firm’s main export product and it comes with tailored shipping and packaging solutions for European wholesalers and supermarkets. TropiFoods’ goal is to share the delights and health benefits of cassava with more consumers. As Operations Manager Joshua Guerrero puts it: ‘It isn’t much to look at, but you will fall in love once you try it.’
Quality, sustainability and CSR
TropiFoods wants to contribute to making Costa Rican produce synonymous with excellent quality, sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). ‘Our clients know they get quality in every box,’ Guerrero explains. ‘They know we work ethically and sustainably, and that we do things right – that is what makes us stand out in Europe.’ For example, 98% of the electricity for the irrigation system of the main plantation at TropiFoods comes from renewable sources, and five hectares were given back to the rainforest. Workers have even spotted some endangered frogs and other species returning to the area! International and local certifications, such as GLOBALG.A.P. and GRASP, are part of this – as are strong local partnerships, says Guerrero: ‘By developing cassava production – along with a more recent favourite, sweet potatoes – we’ve created new opportunities for the 300 farmers we work with. We all benefit!’
Good soil, good seeds, good products
The quality TropiFoods represents is not just about products and services, but also about soil and seeds, says Guerrero. ‘Cassava has been gaining traction in Costa Rica for the last 25 years, but until recently the seed was never improved upon. Four years ago, TropiFoods started researching and experimenting to achieve more reliable varieties and, ultimately, to improve crops and reduce cost.’ The investments are paying off, with TropiFoods’ exports steadily growing. On the European consumer side, cassava is gaining popularity as a versatile superfood, with high vitamin C and carbohydrate levels, and claims that it can help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve skin conditions.
Celebrating 30 years – during a pandemic
Not every company can say they celebrated their 30th anniversary during a pandemic, and Guerrero is thankful TropiFoods was able to quickly adapt. ‘Thanks to our certifications, we already had many protocols in place; they just needed some adjustments,’ he reflects. Despite the pandemic and a heavy rainy season, Tropifoods has been able to maintain relatively stable volumes and prices. ‘We are waiting to see how the second wave of coronavirus in Europe affects the season,’ Guerrero explains, ‘but we are confident that our rigorous processes and high quality will continue to attract clients’.
The company’s next steps are to further consolidate its position on the European market and to expand its offer with new by-products, such as sweet potato and cassava flours. TropiFoods also hope to develop other crops, like ginger, to keep helping Costa Rican farmers flourish – and satisfy European consumers.
Certified sweet potatoes from Costa Rica
Another tropical root vegetable that has taken the world by storm in recent years is sweet potato. Like cassava, it is a versatile superfood. Up until five years ago, it had never been grown in Costa Rica. TropiFoods saw the potential and partnered with university research centres in North and Central
America to develop varieties that best suit the area. The results are clear. Guerrero: ‘We can now offer GLOBALG.A.P. + GRASP certified varieties, and because people are already cooking with sweet potatoes regularly and buyers recognise our quality, our first year of exports was a great success.’
Learn more about Tropifoods and other reliable Central American suppliers in the Connecting Central America brochure, or get to know them personally by requesting a virtual B2B meeting through the event page. You can also get in touch or find out more via the TropiFoods website, or its Instagram, Facebook or YouTube accounts.
TropiFoods is being promoted by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) within its the Connecting Central America initiative. This initiative is co-financed by the European Union and coordinated by the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA).
Arno van der Maden
Mob: +506 884 74 746