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Gregorio Pagni from Alimentari Ortofrutticoli ABC

"Pineapples are a must-have"

"We need to make a few clarifications when talking about pineapples. First of all, on whether we are talking about retail chains or general markets as a sales channel. Then on the origin and outside color. 90% of the fruit in Italy comes from Costa Rica, the other origins are not as known or appreciated. As for the color, there are green pineapples with a crown, those ripened on the plants with a crown and crown-less fruits, which are destined mainly to the fresh-cut market," explains Gregorio Pagni from Alimentari Ortofrutticolo ABC, a family business that has gained a leading position on the Italian import and distribution market.

Gregorio Pagni in Costa Rica, visiting a pineapple grower.

The company works with exotic fruit (bananas, pineapples, avocados, mangoes and papayas, to name a few), melons, counter-seasonal fruit (especially citrus fruit and pears) and vegetables. 90% of the produce is imported from abroad.

Alimentari Ortofrutticoli ABC handles 9,400 tons of pineapples a year on average. "We process the produce 12 months a year, we work with partners at origin and receive around 200 tons of pineapples a week on average. At the moment, they are arriving exclusively via sea. In Costa Rica, we work with two main suppliers who boast state-of-the-art infrastructure. We try to never break the cold chain until the produce reaches Italy, where we have our storage centers that allow us to be efficient when it comes to internal logistics. The variety imported is MD2, which guarantees the high quality standard consumers are used to. It is a sturdy fruit with a good balance between sweetness and acidity."

Simone Montagni, Martina Cenciarelli and Gregorio Pagni di Alimentari Ortofrutticoli ABC.

As they are no longer a niche product, but rather a widely consumed fruit, pineapples are a must-have on the Italian market as well. After a not-so-good period between January and Easter, the prices have now improved.

"The pineapple market is currently livelier due to a lack of produce and not to an increase in consumption. As for the general market, the purchase price wholesalers are paying to distributors for grade 6-7 green fruits from Costa Rica transported by ship hovers around €14-16 per 12kg crate. Pineapples ripened on the plants and transported by ship are lacking due to weather problems. There is a lot of demand but little produce available, and prices for grades 6-7 are €16-18/box while those for grade 8 fruits are €13-14/box."

Yellow pineapples in vertical/pyramid boxes, commonly known as vertical pineapples (in the photo) hover around €20-22. Those transported by air sell at around €41-43/box."

There are currently no big price fluctuations at the level of big retail chains. "The average quote is €1.10-1.20/kg. Consumption is good and constant, and so is demand."

On top of the producer brands, most pineapples commercialized by Alimentari Ortofrutticoli ABC are sold under the Billo brand. "We have restyled the packaging a little, we have practically renewed our logo to make it more modern."

Restyling of the Billo pineapple box.

Weather problems at the source
The current lack of pineapples is due to production problems caused by climate change and the El Niño phenomenon. "Costa Rica went through an extremely hot summer season with little rain. Yields were lower with scalding on the shell and smaller grades. Producers found it difficult to manage the ripe pineapples on the plants. Fruits suffered and could not manage to develop the shape and sweetness required."

Pagni also stresses that the work carried out at origin, especially on the pineapples that ripen on the plants, is carried out by specialists. "Only few businesses grow this fruit properly, it takes specialists to do so, and this specialization has become even more extreme with the pandemic."

The latest arrival: Green Honey pineapples
"They are green pineapples with an excellent Brix level, just like those ripened on the plant, but guarantee a longer 'useful life'. The fruit was developed to 'educate' consumers and dispel the myth that fruits that are green on the outside cannot be sweet and with a yellow flesh. In a few words: they are sweet, crunchy and with a yellow flesh even if they are green outside."

Brix level of Green Honey pineapples measured at departure in Costa Rica.

Images provided by Gregorio Pagni

For more information:
Alimentari Ortofrutticoli ABC Spa
Via Guido Reni 56
00196 Roma – Italy
[email protected]

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