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Ron Jongejan, Fresh-flow: “Our quality's catching up”

In Europe, the growth in avocado consumption has not yet ended. Neither has the number of countries supplying avocados. You can grow this product in almost all warmer climates. How do new players, Kenya and Tanzania, affect the market?

Avocados have high yields and are relatively cheap to cultivate. So, more and more Kenyan and Tanzanian growers are starting to grow avocado. That is partly due to government incentive programs. Last August, Tanzania's Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa ordered cultivation companies to begin growing seedlings. These will be distributed free of charge to growers.

In doing so, the government hopes to improve the country's economic position. It also promises to help expand cultivation and find markets. "Kenya has, however, recently stopped encouraging further avocado cultivation," says Ron Jongejan of Fresh-flow. "There are many small-scale growers exporting their avocados. They don't quite have the quality under control. The same goes for Tanzania. There's much work to be done if they want to match the quality Europe demands."

Fresh-flow is the Kenyan cultivation company, Vegro's Dutch trade office. Vegpro was founded in 1979. Today, it employs 10,000 people and has a €340 million turnover. Social and environmental policies have the highest priority. Fresh-flow's main focus is on marketing Vegpro's avocados. "We're trying to structure sales and gain more insight into the European avocado market," explains Ron.

"Everything converges in the Netherlands. Products from South Africa, Israel, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Spain. So you get a good view of what the market is doing." Peru and Colombia are Kenyan and Tanzanian avocados' biggest competitors in Europe. "Peru already sends large volumes, and more and more are coming from Colombia as well."

"These countries also face quality problems but are working hard at solving that. Kenya and Tanzania should do the same. But African growers have less money to spend than growers in South America. I think Kenyan avocados taste delicious. Their dry matter content will have to increase to compete in the European market," says Ron.

Vegro has some 300 hectares of its own crop. It uses that to bring the Just Avo's premier line to market. "We have all the necessary quality standards and certificates, including GlobalGAP and SMETA. The products are grown sustainably and are environmentally friendly. And the growers use less water. We now have this cultivation well under control; tests show no quality differences with Peru."

"Retailers are noticeably enthusiastic. But we can't yet deliver the volumes to fill retail programs. That should change soon. We're working with new varieties that develop faster. It's our plantations' second year of production. And the harvest is better than expected. I think we'll be able to release more avocados more quickly in the coming years," continues Jongejan.

Vegro is also investing heavily in knowledge to optimize its cultivation further. "We have an eight to ten-hectare test location where we test all kinds of different farming methods. There are also increasingly better methods for assessing quality. Measuring is knowing - that also applies to avocado. We try to get our growers to embrace this as well."

"Then they will no longer rely solely on color and appearance," Ron adds. Vegro has contracts with about 100 growers. "The quality varies. That has everything to do with the weather. This year, Kenya experienced dry weather conditions. And as a result, the fruit ends up being a little smaller."

Companies are becoming increasingly aware of quality, and more are switching to that. "That's also necessary if we want to keep up with Peru and Colombia. Things are developing rapidly. We're still at the back of the pack, but we're catching up," Ron concludes (ML)

Ron Jongejan
Graslaan 9
1424 SB De Kwakel
+31 (0)6 1305 0246 

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