Although okra is widely used in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun and Indian cuisines, many European consumers have yet to discover its unique texture and flavour. Thanks to the power of the Internet, more and more Europeans are embracing the nutritious value of this versatile vegetable. As interest grows, Honduran producer Agrícola Antar is expanding its business to Europe. The firm aims to compete with producers from other parts of the world with okra that has a longer shelf life, higher quality and year-round availability.
After many years running an ice-cream factory, Antonio and Argentina, a couple from Choluteca, Honduras, decided to look for new ways to benefit the local community. After some feasibility studies, they found that okra had the potential they were looking for and they established Agrícola Antar. Today, the company Antar is one of the biggest okra exporters in Honduras, with 50 full-time staff and up to 700 seasonal workers.
"For many years, our focus was on the US market, where almost all supermarkets sell okra," Heberto Reyes, Director of Global Sales, explains. "Now, we want to focus on Europe. Okra is still an ethnic product there, mostly enjoyed by communities that have migrated from Africa, India, South America or the Caribbean. But overall, the European market is more stable. We also have a competitive advantage since our okra has a longer shelf life and a longer season than okra from other parts of the world."
Agrícola Antar began exporting to Europe in September 2019. The company is focusing on three key areas: production, logistics, and commercialisation. In terms of production, the company currently works 300 hectares of land, which produces 80% of what they export; the rest comes from 50-60 smaller local farms: "Our first year on the EU market was so successful that we are already looking for more local producers who, like us, are Global G.A.P. certified and want to grow with us." Reyes explains.
In terms of logistics, Agrícola Antar is working hard to streamline the supply chain, ensuring efficient and reliable transportation and delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the urgency of strong logistics, says Reyes. "Thankfully, the pandemic did not affect our production, but it did make transportation more difficult. With fewer commercial flights, freight costs rose steeply and airlines didn’t always prioritize fresh produce. We lost a lot of the okra waiting to be shipped. We are still exporting at just 50-60% of our capacity, which is pushing us to focus on other solutions, like using our distribution centre in the USA to reach Europe."
The third growth area for Agrícola Antar is commercialisation: introducing consumers to the product. With high levels of vitamin A and K, as well as antioxidants, okra is highly nutritious. Fresh or dried, pickled, fried, sautéed, roasted, or boiled, there are plenty of ways for consumers to enjoy this product. In Europe, however the growing numbers of non-ethnic okra lovers often have to go out of their way to find it. Reyes is excited about reaching these consumers.
"It is crucial that we keep growing in our efforts to generate interest in the product and establish good business relationships. Our marketing strategy has always been to focus on direct relationships with the client – the part I most enjoy," he explains. "The Internet and social media are useful tools to grow consumer awareness, but they won’t replace strong partnerships with trustworthy clients. We want to have a stronger presence on the European market, especially in France, Holland and England, while always remembering who we are: a family-run business that produces high-quality okra and delivers it directly to the client."
The founders of Agricola Antar, Antonio and Argentina - from which the name ‘Antar’ was created - have always had a big heart for their local community. This attitude is rare in an area that many people leave for a better life in the big city. "Social responsibility is just part of who they are, and Agrícola Antar means they can do it on a larger scale. Okra production provides an income for hundreds of families. On top of that, Antonio and Argentina offer their workers subsidised meals, a cooperative system to increase their savings, and on-site medical care." Reyes concludes.
Connecting Central America
Learn more about Agrícola Antar 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 Virtual B2B Meetings event page. You can also get in touch or find out more via the Agrícola Antar website or its Instagram or Facebook accounts.
Agrícola Antar is being promoted by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) as a part of CBI’s Connecting Central America initiative. This initiative is co-financed by the European Union and coordinated by the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA).
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