For most products, appearance will not have much influence on whether customers buy it, but that is not the case with pitaya. The reddish-pink outer skin and the white flesh have to look good, according to Emily van Dyck from Special Fruit. “The appearance of the product is very important,” says the Belgian importer. “It is a developing product, we have high hopes for it.” For example, experimentations with the cultivation in Europe are taking place.
Although there are three varieties, it is just the pitaya with red skin and white flesh that is popular. Dragon fruit, as it is also called, with yellow skin and white flesh and with red skin and red flesh, are much less popular. “The pitaya with yellow skin and white flesh comes from Ecuador, and its import is very limited,” Emily explains. “We mostly sell dragon fruit with a red skin and white flesh.”
Despite its impressive name, dragon fruit is a small product in the assortment. Demand reaches its peak around the holidays. “Pitaya is very popular around the holidays, and people buy it en masse. It will be found in all of the supermarkets, so volume is much higher than in other weeks.” The number of orders increases around the holidays, and additionally, there is a smaller peak around Easter.
During the last month of the year, many Belgian and Dutch supermarkets have pitaya in their assortment, but that is not the case the other eleven months of the year. “We have a very different image of the consumption during the other months of the year. We have a permanent sales market in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, but we are also focused on the Netherlands and Belgium.” Demand for dragon fruit has been increasing in recent years.
Special Fruit imports from Vietnam, which has two seasons. The natural season is from May to October. “In that period, cultivation is dependent on weather circumstances, and sun and rain have much influence,” Emily explains. “Between October and April it is the off-season, but the cultivators work with illumination so the fruit can ripen.” More pitayas are available during that season than during the natural season. “That is a bit of a contradiction, but it is more difficult to get product during the natural season.”
Vietnam exports much fruit to China and other Asian countries. The European market is a small market for exporters. The traders do try to have enough product available during the holidays. Although cultivators invest much into the organic cultivation of the pitaya, that market is still small. “The appearance of the fruit is very important when buying, and that is not always easy for the organic cultivation.” Emily does expect growth can be realised in this segment.
The pitaya empire is expanding further and further throughout the world. While the fruit is much cultivated in Asian countries, cultivators in Turkey and Portugal are also experimenting with the cultivation of the exotic. “I know of one supplier in Turkey who is cultivating the pitaya, and there are also interesting projects in Portugal, but I think those are still in their infancy,” Emily says. “But we will hear more about that in coming years.”
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Emily Van Dyck