"Rafael Perucho: "The key lies in eliminating its astringency"

The success of Persimon® boosts its worldwide production

In the peak of the Persimon® kaki season, FreshPlaza visited the Valencian region of Ribera Alta, in the famous Ribera del Xúquer, which accounts for about 50% of Spain's kaki production. At the Canso cooperative, based in La Alcudia, we had a chance to see the whole packaging process, from the moment the product comes in until it is shipped. Canso belongs to the second-level cooperative Anecoop, Spain's largest kaki operator.

The most widely planted variety in Spain, with 95% of the acreage is the Rojo Brillante (Bright Red). Its production has increased from 5 million kilos to around 240 million kilos in 15 years. "The low returns that growers have been obtaining in the citrus sector has led in some cases to them abandoning the plantation; others have chosen to sell their land and then there are those who have decided to venture into the production of more exotic fruits, such as kakis or pomegranates, combining them mostly with the marketing of citrus," explains Rafael Perucho, manager of the Regulatory Council PDO Kaki Ribera del Xúquer.

The Regulatory Council of the PDO Kaki Ribera del Xúquer was founded in 1998; it controls about 100 million kilos from 6,000 producers and carries out promotional activities. Almost the entire production is intended for mass distribution; 20% goes to the domestic market, which is the main customer, and the other 80% is exported to more than 40 countries. In Europe, Germany, Italy, the UK and France are the largest consumers. Before the veto, around 10% of the kakis were shipped to Russia, but since then there has been an increase in the volume of shipments to a neighbouring country: Belarus. Last year, the most noteworthy growth of exports was registered in the UAE, Jordan, Canada, the United States and Brazil.

The key to its success, the elimination of its astringency
"The success of Persimon® kakis lies in the removal of its astringency and in its texture, as the variety is actually still the same. To get a turgid texture, it is harvested in advance. Today, about 99% of the kakis that reach the market are turgid. But even more important is the elimination of its natural astringency. To achieve this, the kaki is stored in chambers with CO2. The less oxygen in the chamber, the faster the astringency is lost. With this method, the process can be complete in just one day, whereas previously, with the use of ethanol, it took us five," explains Rafael Perucho, manager of the Regulatory Council.

The fruit's handling is not difficult at all, according to Rafael Perucho. It does not require post-harvest treatments like citrus; it is simply washed with water, dried and packaged and it has a shelf life of two to three weeks.

Production on the rise worldwide
According to Rafael Perucho, production of kaki is still small compared to other products, such as citrus fruits or apples; for this reason, it is in the hands of small producers, and even though at the moment the available supply is apparently not sufficient to meet the demand, Rafael says that production is growing at a very fast pace in Spain, given the good yields and how easy it is to produce. It will also soon grow in other Mediterranean countries that have already started to plant it, so there should be stronger competition in the short and medium term.

"There is a boost in the cultivation of Rojo Brillante kakis, not only in La Ribera del Xúquer, but in other producing areas of Spain, and this is something that we'll notice in the coming seasons, when everything that has been planted becomes productive. In fact, demand is such that there is a long waiting list to purchase kaki seedlings. Furthermore, it is also being planted a lot in countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Portugal or Italy, where they are also expected to record a rapid and significant growth," he points out.

Moreover, he states that "The United States, a market to which we also export, recently made an official announcement about the launch of a new variety, which apparently will replace its most common soft variety, the Hachiya, and which happens to be exactly like our Rojo Brillante. It may seem strange, but that country makes it very easy to launch new varieties, even if they are not, and sets many legal barriers to challenge their authenticity."

However, it is still an unknown product. "According to several studies, in Spain only 10% of consumers are familiar with this fruit, even though its popularity continues to grow, so I think there is still a long way to go," he adds.

In search of varieties that can extend the campaign
The production schedule of kakis is relatively short, from October to January, with very low volumes during the first and last weeks of the campaign.

"We continue seeking new varieties through the Valencian Institute of Agrarian Research (IVIA). So far, we have not managed to find an early or late variety that allows us to extend our campaign, as they have the same production schedule as the Rojo Brillante."

For more information:
Rafael Perucho
Consell Regulador DOP Kaki Ribera del Xúquer
Plaça del País Valencià, 7
L'Alcúdia, Valencia. SPAIN
T: +34 962997702
M: +34 666601736

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