La Dona pineapples

A new record has been set for the volume of pineapples exported by airfreight in a single month in Panama, according to that nation’s customs office.

The record-setting amount of 34.5 tonnes was shipped by La Dona, a Panama-based grower and exporter founded by Edna Vergara.

The company focuses on an artisan-style approach, shipping high-colour, high-maturity pineapples by air to high-end markets in Europe. This allows it to deliver pineapples with much higher brix levels and maturity, traits which appear to be finding favour with consumers.

“Shipping via air allows you to place a product in the markets on the other side of the word in 24-48 hours,” Vergara said.

“It allows us to send fruit that has a very high-level maturity and a very high level of sugar content, which would be the ultimate pineapple experience for people who haven’t ever tasted a golden pineapple from Panama.”

Paul Vergara, La Dona’s director of pineapple operations and son of the founder, added: “If you let the fruit mature on the plant like this, it’s a whole different experience, and you couldn’t send pineapples like this any other way.”

The company’s head of global sales, Dax Cooke, claimed that artisan-style airflown pineapples grown on small farms like La Dona’s, are a stark contrast to the low-colour, low Brix level fruit being shipped by other companies.

“The large growers in Costa Rica and Ecuador have been flooding the market with green fruit, which has low sugar content and high acidity,” Cooke explained.

“Our pineapples are meant to be eaten golden-ripe and with a sweet, translucent interior. We are averaging 16-17 Brix content on high-colour fruit, which ensures a super-sweet flavour.”

The company offers exclusive distribution in wholesale markets across Europe with no more than one provider per hall, as well as working with premium retailers.

Kilo prices of pineapple shipped by air sold for up to €2.80 each last month in the Rungis market, as opposed to the price of €0.80 fetched by cases shipped by sea.

“With transportation adjusted it’s more than double the price of green fruit,” Cooke noted.

La Dona was founded in 1977 on a 1ha farm in Panama, by Edna Vergara and has since grown to become a thriving export business, culminating in its partnership last year with agribusiness management firm Farmfolio.

In 2007 Vergara was named Agricultural Person of the Year for her vision and leadership in the realm of Panamanian agriculture.