‘Values are being reset’ in the Peruvian asparagus sector and a combination of factors look set to limit future exports to the UK

Avnish Malde (far left) and his team at Wealmoor import large volumes of asparagus to the UK

Avnish Malde (far left) and his team at Wealmoor import large volumes of Peruvian asparagus to the UK

There is likely to be less Peruvian asparagus on shelf at UK supermarkets next season as supply comes under pressure due to various factors, according to Wealmoor boss Avnish Malde.

A combination of reduced plantings in recent years, strict pest controls, and higher prices look set to tighten supply during Peru’s June-January window, he told FPJ.

From September 2023, the increasing presence of a pest called fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) caused the EU and then the UK to introduce phytosanitary inspections on 100 per cent of imports.

“Border interceptions have been prevalent in both the EU and the UK, and growers face major losses if a container is impounded,” said Malde, CEO of major UK asparagus handler Wealmoor.

A sea freight container of the vegetable can cost in the region of $100,000, he said. But a significant volume is also imported to Britain by air.

“Our growers are also working closely on developing protocols to manage pest thresholds and therefore reduce the risk of border interceptions.”

Last season, growers were also hit by unusually warm weather due to the El Niño phenomenon. Yields fell, which pushed up prices by 30-40 per cent. This has caused some producers to reconsider the future of the crop as values had previously been at unsustainable levels.

Supply of the vegetable from Peru was already on a downward trajectory, with growers switching to higher-margin crops such as blueberries and grapes in recent years.

Malde, who handles large volumes of Peruvian asparagus, estimates that the overall volume exported from Peru has shrunk by around 30 per cent in the last five years.

He notes that since the US is the dominant market for Peruvian asparagus, accounting almost 70 per cent of total exports, it is likely to be prioritised as production falls. By contrast, the UK imports just eight per cent of the total Peruvian crop.

In 2018 the UK was the second-biggest market for Peruvian fresh asparagus, taking 9,000 tonnes (11 per cent of total exports), but in 2023 this fell to 5,900 tonnes (eight per cent).

“Values are being reset,” said Malde. “Any asparagus that comes across from Peru going forward will have a risk premium attached to it, which will put upward pressure on pricing.

“Any upwards movement on retail price will put downward pressure on demand. So going forward, we could see less asparagus on supermarket shelves during the Peruvian season.”

The other issue, as Malde sees it, is that the versatility and usage potential of asparagus “has not been marketed well for a number of years”, leaving consumption “fairly static over a long period”.