There is plenty of untapped potential in the tropicals market – provided you get the quality and consistency right
The Hague’s Postillion Hotel and Convention Centre became a tropical island for a day last week when some 200 people from 23 countries came together to delve into the dynamic landscape of the tropicals sector at Fruitnet’s inaugural Global Tropicals Congress. The event drew leading industry players from across the supply chain for a day of knowledge sharing and networking.
The programme kicked off with an overview from Rabobank’s Cindy van Rijswick on the trends and market opportunities in three of the biggest products in the tropicals category: avocados, pineapples and mangoes.
In avocados, delegates heard how demand is struggling to keep pace with the big increase in global production. The situation in Asia has been particularly disappointing, with markets like China failing to live up to earlier growth expectations. The consensus was that suppliers in Europe and elsewhere will have to continue to work on expanding consumption.
When it comes to mangoes, van Rijswick highlighted the very mixed picture on the markets. In the US, for example, consumption is twice as high as in Europe. One of the biggest challenges retailers face is how to source consistent quantities and quality when the supply base is so fragmented. Pineapples, meanwhile, have been under pressure for years, with the market experiencing big ups and downs.
Van Rijswick concluded that there is still a positive story to tell, provided the sector can come up with effective strategies to avoid the creeping commoditisation of established products like avocados and pineapples, as well as ways of increasing penetration of more niche product lines.
Desmond Jas of Olympic Fruit presented the findings of new consumer research showing how snacking presents one of the best occasions to increase consumption of tropicals. Highlighting the need for closer collaboration within the supply chain, Jas put out the call for likeminded companies and individuals to join his quest to maximise new growth opportunities.
The tropicals segment is also clearly feeling the effects of inflation, as Marie Wieloch, ICA Sweden, and Avnish Malde, Wealmoor, explained during a panel discussion on the growth and evolution of the tropicals market. “We must adapt our different campaigns precisely to the product. We often focus on fruit and vegetables in general. But broccoli is something completely different to passion fruit. So we have to look closely and understand what the consumer wants and what he can afford,” the panel said.
This also includes keeping an eye on what is happening on social media. Snack lemons are one product that were heavily hyped on Tik Tok, only for the trend to disappear almost as quickly as it had emerged. Wieloch noted: “Of course you first have to look at who offers these products. And that’s always the case with trends: they pass quickly and aren’t always cheap”.
According to Wieloch, it is also worrying that consumers are increasingly buying unripe mangoes because they are cheaper than ready-to-eat fruits. The consumer lets them ripen at home but is then often dissatisfied with the product. This could result in people no longer buying mangoes.
Ethical trading and sustainability were a key focus of the morning sessions. And Lieselot van der Veken of Pro Terra Agro made the case for regenerative agriculture. Xavier Roussel, chief marketing and sustainability officer at the world’s largest fresh produce company Dole, spoke at length about the company’s efforts to lessen its environmental impact and to improve conditions for workers.
Roussel said significant investment will be required to improve environmental and ethical sustainability in the tropicals business, but the potential returns and boosts to profitability are also there.
“A lot of investment is needed, for example for decarbonisation, new shipping vessels, new technologies. It’s always a trade-off. Of course, the savings come first because they are easiest to implement,” he said. “But when we talk about regenerative agriculture and soil management, for example, many of these practices are not immediately cost-positive. Improving soils can be a nine, ten-year process. So I think it’s the time horizon of the return on investment that is so different with sustainability. You need to take the long view.”
Johnathan Sutton, group safety and environment executive at Westfalia Fruit, highlighted recent efforts to address water usage in the avocado business.
Making the business case for ethical trade, Simon Derrick of Blue Skies explained how adding value at source, employing local people, and transforming communities has been central to the supplier’s approach since the company’s launch in 1998. Derrick noted that ethical trade should not simply be a box ticking exercise but rather policies whose success can be measured by the impact they have on the communities they serve.
Other topics discussed during the day included how the emergence of new ripening, transportation and postharvest technologies to extend shelf-life and maintain fruit quality are poised to revolutionise the supply of tropicals. Citrosol’s Benito Orihuel presented the findings of new research on how the company’s next-generation post-harvest treatments can minimise losses in avocados to maximise profits; Tineke Van de Voorde gave an overview of the emerging technologies driving quality improvements at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges; Agrinorm’s Daria Reisch demonstrated how the company’s AI-powered software is helping to control quality risk and manage uncertainties, and Frigotec’s Roland Wirth gave an introduction to the company’s game-changing new Softripe ripening technology.
The congress also heard about some of the new products and new suppliers that are set to shape the tropicals category over the coming years. Clara Chico of Asprocan and Jorge Ignacio Brotons of Bonnysa explained how the Canary Islands is fast emerging as a sustainable supplier of bananas and papayas for the European market, while Kaushal Khakhar of Kay Bee Exports presented a selection of the vast array of exotic and tropical fruits and vegetables that India has to offer.
Peter Bouman of Fruit Market International, Europe’s leading supplier of fresh limes, provided plenty of food for thought on how the market will shape up in the coming years.
The day concluded with a keynote interview with Charles-Henri Deprez from Greenyard, who gave his insights on how to assure the long-term, sustainable growth of the category.
In the face of economic pressure on consumer spending, Deprez said: “The main [trend] which is concerning for fruits is trading out, people not buying fruit any more. That’s a consumer we lose and will be difficult to gain back. I think in general for fruit it is something that is concerning. But for tropicals it’s even more concerning”.
Nonetheless, he believed there is potential to boost sales of tropical fruit through innovation, for example in the fresh-cut sector. “I think the tropicals sector has a huge opportunity, but it also needs to take conscious decisions. What I mean by that is, for example now we are trying to push a lot of tropicals for the entire year, which is maybe not the right thing to do.
“We have seen with avocados that year-round makes sense. In mangoes, however, we tried to do it year-round but we’re still not successful and we see that volatility. I do think mango is a logical product to have year-round, but we need to make sure that we standardise the quality to avoid surprises for the consumer.
“The tropical sector needs to make a choice. Go year round and make sure we give the consumer a good standard of quality, or we make it an event – two, three or four weeks – and it’s in and out.”
The photos of the Global Tropicals Congress can be viewed here: https://www.fruitnet.com/tropicalscongress/photos