Although physalis is available year-round, demand for the berry increases significantly toward the end of the year. “We are already seeing that the market is becoming nervous with Christmas approaching, and that prices are going up,” says Edwin Janssen of BUD Holland. The berry has conquered a permanent place in retail in Germany and France. In the Netherlands, the golden berry, an alternate name for physalis, has a harder time gaining a foothold with most retailers.
“The market in Europe is stable,” Edwin continues. “We do see consumption in the Netherlands has been lagging behind for years compared to Germany and France. In the Netherlands, we mainly know the physalis as a garnish, but it’s just a tasty and healthy little fruit.” Of the ten to twenty containers of physalis that are imported weekly from Colombia, often combined with passionfruit, the biggest part is destined for the German retail market. “The transport is done by ship for 90 to 95 percent. We only opt for air freight in case of shortages.”
“We work with regular suppliers in Colombia,” Edwin continues. “Colombia has consistent supplies and year-round availability. Occasionally, we import small volumes from Ecuador, and we’re also seeing produce appear on the market from Portugal, but the production there is still in the initial stages.” That year-round availability is important even though demand from retail is lower in the “summer months”. “That’s when mainly the specialty stores and hospitality wholesalers have the physalis in their product range. We are a specialist in exotics, so we want to be able to supply year-round.” In addition to the international retail, the restaurant business is a major buyer of physalis.
The Cape gooseberry, another name for physalis, is available in three ways: fresh, peeled and dried. The fresh physalis, generally packaged in punnets per hundred grammes, hides in the calyx of the lantern-shaped flower. For a few years now, the peeled physalis has also been available in supermarkets, mostly under the name golden berry and without the lantern-shaped flower. Finally, the dried physalis is becoming popular as a superfood, albeit under yet another name: Inca berry.
El Niño threat
“We see that the physalis is getting more and more uses. You see the dried berry covered in chocolate more and more, for instance. But personally I find it even tastier fresh.” In addition, the organic and Fairtrade varieties are also on the rise a bit. “Those are still really small volumes,” Edwin explains. “There is one supplier in Colombia who can also supply the organic physalis and fair trade physalis.”
For the coming months, El Niño is hanging over the Colombian growers and the rest of South America like a sword of Damocles. The South American country could be hit hard by the weather phenomenon, like other countries in the region. “We’ll have to wait and see,” Edwin explains. “Less volume is expected because of El Niño, but how much is still unclear.”
The Colombian supplier confirms that El Niño has arrived and will cause problems for the growers. Most problematic are the cold nights combined with the sunny days. The night frost inhibits a good growth of the physalis, causing cracks in the berry. After having been exported.
Nevertheless, the company is optimistic. The regions where the plantations can be found, Cundinamarca and Boyacá, aren’t affected by the drought yet. The land is moist, and by planting 67,000 new physalis plants, the company is expected to benefit from the situation. In six months, the first physalis from the new planting can be harvested.