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Wim Heemskerk, Doce Vida Europe:

Worldwide demand for açaí is growing

The açaí berries are only produced in the Northern Region of Brazil, in the Amazonian area. It’s an advantage that, although it’s a product with growing worldwide demand, there is no competition from other producing countries. However, the disadvantage of Açaí is that the berries ferment extremely fast after harvesting. Therefore, most of the production is processed into pulp directly after the harvest. Only very locally, as in Belém, is Açaí eaten as a fresh fruit. All production that needs to be transported into Brazil, or is going to be transported, is processed within 24 hours, states Wim Heemskerk from Doce Vida Europe.

Doce Vida
Doce Vida was originally a Brazilian company, one of the biggest in producing high quality fruit pulp. Wim explains that it’s a family company and it supplies the best known retail chains in Brazil. "After açaí was discovered by the world, Doce Vida decided to look for export opportunities and started with some export to the United States. Then we contacted them, as we had been looking for a partner in Brazil, for a long time. However, we had quite some requirements for our partner and Doce Vida matched all of them. A family company with ambitions to grow, also flexible and there was a good connection. We were a good partner for Doce Vida as we were located in Europe, so we know the market. Moreover, we already had the networks, our own facilities, logistics partners, etc. Eventually we decided to set up Doce Vida Europe.”

Wim continues: “I have been looking for such a partner for 8 years, because I believe in super fruits and antioxidants. In my opinion you have to work together with the source and not a trader. The quality should be the most important thing instead of the price. One of our colleagues from Brazil has moved to the Netherlands. He is responsible for the communication between us and the mother company in Brazil. This is really important, as now he understands both cultures and speaks their language, so he is able to respond quickly.”

The fruit pulp of Açaí has two levels of quality, medium and premium. The difference is the water that is included. The premium quality pulp contains less water, so it’s thicker and of better quality. “Açaí is one of the most important products of the 20 different fruit pulps that we have in our assortment”, says Wim. “It works well in Brazil itself and in Asia, but it’s also a good product for Europe. The markets of Italy, Spain and Portugal are more developed already, compared to the middle and northern part of Europe. Açaí pulp is one of the standard products in supermarkets in Portugal, so consumers use it, for example, in juices or smoothies. In Holland so far only the bigger companies use açaí - like Danone and Coolbest. However, these are only small quantities that are added into their products.”

Wim explains that the bigger audiences haven’t been confronted with açaí so far. “We are happy with all the initiatives of other parties that work with açaí. Everyone should know the benefits of açaí, which is the high orac level, which are the antioxidants. There are so many applications to use the fruit pulp; for example juices, ice creams, yoghurt and drinks. We hope that in the near future, açaí will be used as a main product instead of only a small addition in certain produce. The flavour is good, but especially because it’s so healthy.”

Açaí is produced year-round, however it can’t be harvested year-round, due to the rainy season in Brazil. During this period there is less harvest. If it rains, there are a few days without harvest, as we in the fresh produce industry know only too well, says Wim.

“Cupuaçu, açaí and graviola are the most expensive fruit varieties from Brazil, because of these circumstances. Supply and demand also has its effects on the prices. The worldwide demand for acai and graviola has been increasing tremendously, yet the production hasn’t grown in the same proportion. Over the last 10 years, prices have been increasing because of this. The other 17 types of fruit pulp that we have such as mango, pineapple, and passion fruit, are grown in big quantities and there is always enough supply of the fruits. Compared to açaí, these prices are 30-40% lower.

The coming years
“All the fruit pulps, except for acai, are processed and packed in our own plant in Anápolis, Brazil. We also have two processing plants in the North East of Brazil to process and package the açaí. All according the most strict certifications, as we also export to the United States. However, that makes us flexible and therefore I believe that we are able quadruple our volumes. We can guarantee our buyers the necessary volumes for the coming 10-15 years, confirms Wim.

The problem is going to be the growing demand, which influences the price. It happens with lots of products, however, people accept a price increase if it happens to by step. The product is unique, with the high level of antioxidants, so people easily accept the higher prices.

New concepts
“Besides being producers, we are also concept makers. That means to say that we do not just focus on how to market the products, but we also think of how to add value. We consider whether we can do this with new partners or help other parties with advice, cost price and continuity. There are so many applications for this product, it would be a shame not to look for new opportunities to use açaí in new products.”

Doce Vide Europe has already come up with the idea of a sorbet. “It’s not an ice cream, but more sorbet without e-numbers, additives and no added sugar. We have different flavours already, for example, açaí combined with banana or strawberry. We also have a zero version, which only contains 40 calories for a treat of 130 grams and still includes the benefits of the antioxidants. We just launched this sorbet, so we haven’t found a distributor so far. We are looking for opportunities on the European market for it, concludes Wim.

For more information.
Wim Heemskerk – General manager Europe
Doce Vida Europe
Tweelingenlaan 65, 7324 Apeldoorn, NL
T: +31 85 040 5999
E: [email protected]