"When in 2018, as a result of major investments in modern technology, we tested the new processing lines for the transformation of pomegranate derivatives, we were guided by optimism. We were sure that an Italian supply chain for pomegranate products would attract the interest of consumers and multinationals thanks to the fruit's health benefits. For various reasons, it did not turn out that way and therefore the season for the two main products of this fruit is proceeding with great difficulty, namely the edible seeds, the so-called fresh arils for the ready-to-eat segment, and the organic juice," says Salvatore Imbesi manager of Agrumi-Gel, a Sicilian brand specialized in the processing of citrus fruits, pomegranate and summer fruits.
Agrumi-Gel launches a campaign to process pomegranates into juice
"Although consumption of fresh-squeezed juice is growing and our pomegranates are of excellent quality, interest in a niche juice made from Sicilian fruit has declined sharply in recent years due to the large quantities of foreign products on the Italian market. Despite Sicily having everything to produce a quality product, a feeling of bitterness prevails among growers today, having invested in larger acreages without being able to reap the benefits. Given high growing costs and low selling prices, profit margins are too low.
"The main reason for the low prices is the introduction of foreign products whose origin is not even known in some cases. Entire plots are abandoned and uprooted, especially in the Catania hinterland. This causes enormous damage to the entire supply chain, but especially to growers who, with a view to diversifying citrus cultivation, had decided to plant pomegranates. Part of the blame also lies with the lack of an agricultural register that would be able to monitor cultivation through a national database, with transparency on total volumes."
Traditionally, only pomegranates of local varieties were grown in Sicily, especially Dente di Cavallo, or Mollar, highly prized for its soft seeds. In more recent years, with the introduction of varieties such as Wonderful, Parfianka and Acco, the yield, aesthetic quality and taste of the fruit have increased. Of the most common varieties, Acco is the earliest. The season starts in late September and productivity ranges from 25 to 30 tons per hectare. The first Wonderful varieties are picked in late October and the variety has an average yield of 35-45 tons per hectare.
Agrumi-Gel processes both organic and conventional fruit, sourced from different growing areas: the Etna hinterland, Agrigento, Trapani, Marsala, Canicattì and Chiaramonte Gulfi.
Agrumi-Gel at SIAL di Parigi with its pomegranates
"We have then gone from a phase where the demand for pomegranates expanded rapidly with a supply that was not adequate, to the current situation where we have more product than needed. We are talking about a zero-residue product that is certified at every stage of the supply chain. Given that, in a free market, the import and export of goods is regulated by the agreements of each individual country, I wonder if are we sure that, despite the drastic EU measures, Italian supermarket chains control foreign products as they should, to guarantee consumers a healthy product? After all, the presence of pomegranates from third countries (and this reasoning also applies to citrus) grown under different rules than ours could cause a major imbalance in the market to the detriment of our productions," concluded Salvatore Imbesi.
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