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Mid-Atlantic importer bridges seasonal spring gap with Peruvian figs and pomegranates

At JVI Imports, the import division of John Vena Inc. Specialty Produce in Philadelphia, the season is getting underway for two lesser-known counter-season commodities out of Peru.

Figs: “Peru is still an emerging supplier of fresh figs for the U.S. market,” says Brandon Tran, manager at JVI Imports, noting that their primary export market is Europe. Peru has been working towards year-round production of figs and JVI Imports expects to soon be able to supply fruit consistently year-round from this growing region alone.

The company expects consistent shipments of Black Mission figs from Peru to arrive as early as April 17th. “We will start with fruit by air and then move to fruit shipped by sea container,” says Trans, noting this ensures it is able to offer a solid value. “This is a complex supply chain, but we maintain strong partnerships to ensure that it works seamlessly.”

Tran says it will pare down supplies during the domestic season, but anticipates picking up again when the California season winds down in October.

According to Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing at John Vena Inc., the primary selling point of Peruvian figs, aside from their consistent availability, is the balance of eating quality and shelf life. “Compared to imports from other counter-season growing regions, Peruvian fruit has quite good internal color and flavor. However they also offer an exceptional shelf life, especially relative to domestic figs,” she says. “We can offer retailers two weeks and even up to a month depending on the time in the season. That’s almost unheard of for figs, especially with the longer supply chain.” She also notes that they are large in size and have a distinct tear-drop shape.

In turn, she believes demand will be good. “Availability of good fruit is spotty out of Mexico and Chile at this time of year and the domestic season hasn’t yet kicked in, so the program is launching at a valuable time,” she says.

Pomegranates: JVI Imports is also focusing on year-round supplies of premium pomegranates. It just wrapped up the season for Israeli imports and expects the first shipment of pomegranates from Peru to arrive this week. Supplies from Peru are expected to last through May.

This is the second season with Peruvian pomegranates for the company and it’s expecting improvements in the program this year. “We always work exclusively with the preferred Wonderful variety, but since last year, we have fine-tuned our quality standards based on feedback from our retailers,” says Tran. “Our Peruvian growers have experience with the European market, but the U.S. is still relatively new for them and it’s been a learning experience. This year we expect the program to be quite strong.”

Part of that effort to build a viable year-round pomegranate program has been ensuring consistency in the quality of the fruit--particularly on color. “Israeli fruit tends to have good color and in past seasons, Peruvian fruit hasn’t colored up as well,” says Tran, noting the color doesn’t affect the eating quality. “We know the transition from deep red fruit to blush fruit can be jarring for some retail partners so we are working hard to maintain those standards. We could have had fruit earlier in the season out of Peru but we’re delaying the start to ensure that the fruit we’re getting has sufficient color.”

As for pricing, it’s going to be similar to last year at this time. “We’re trying to hit that sweet spot between quality and value. We expect Peru will come in a bit under the market on fruit from Chile, without sacrificing quality,” says Kohlhas.

Pomegranates from Peru are irradiated upon arrival in the U.S. to meet USDA import requirements. JVI Imports also supplies cold-treated fruit out of Chile and Argentina for retailers preferring non-irradiated fruit.

As for demand, Kohlhas believes it is promising. “Last year there was strong demand, but our season wrapped up unexpectedly early. This year supplies are looking good.” She notes that the Peruvian season is key to building reliable year-round supplies of premium pomegranates.

“Historically there has been a gap for pomegranate availability and we’re working on closing that gap,” she says. “We expect year-round availability that will build that familiarity with consumers to a point where they are a typical part of a weekly shop, as they are in many parts of Europe.”

For more information:
Emily Kohlhas
John Vena Inc.
Tel: +1 (215) 336.0766  

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