Lewey Hook, technical director at SH Pratt Tropical, discusses how the company is coping with the current challenges in mango supply

How is mango supply looking this season? Have there been any major issues at production level?

Lewey Hook, technical director at SH Pratt Tropical

Lewey Hook, technical director at SH Pratt Tropical

The challenges with climate conditions continue to have an impact industrywide.

We’ve just experienced the worst Peruvian season I can remember in the 26 years I’ve worked in the mango industry.

The extreme weather conditions in South America last year meant Ecuador and Peru were particularly hit hard, which impacted on the season we’ve just experienced. This was because the freakish weather affected flowering and fruiting in Peru.

We navigate the world on a seasonal basis for our mango supplies and are moving into the Ivory Coast and Malian season, which currently seems stable.

This will be followed by the Senegalese season, where production is down 50 per cent due to the warm weather experienced during December/January, because not having enough cool weather impacts the flowering process.

The Kent variety of mango, one of the most popular varieties in Europe, requires cooler conditions when it wants to flower. If that doesn’t happen, the tree grows and continues with a vegetative flush but doesn’t flower, which again affects production levels.

Over the past 50 years areas around the world have been identified as ideal to grow the popular Kent mango. However, due to the ongoing climate change challenges, the industry will need to adapt because some varieties won’t be able to be grown or will need to be planted in different locations, where there’s cooler climate conditions.

Where are you sourcing from currently?

We’re sourcing from the Ivory Coast and Mali, a short, sharp season of six weeks but a very important one.

While the previous Peruvian season is more than double that length of time, the fruit there is sourced from the length and breadth of Peru, starting in the north and finishing in the south. It’s almost like two seasons in duration, because fruit is sourced from such geographically different areas.

From June to September we move onto the Caribbean, sourcing Dominican Republic fruit during a long season, which produces the Keitt variety, which can withstand different weather scenarios.

What are the major challenges facing mango suppliers right now?

Climate change issues pose the biggest challenges, and it will be a case of how the industry reacts, which make working in the industry exciting and interesting.

With billions of mouths to feed we need to make the changes to the crops now. Whether that’s location, variety, more efficient resource usage – it’s revolution over evolution.

Are there any new developments in terms of new varieties that you can tell us about?

Increasingly, newer varieties creep into our warehouses and onto the retail floor – lately that’s been due to the lack of availability.

Because of the lack of fruit from one source, the door opens to another source, which is why we’ve seen the Brazilian Palmer come into acceptance – while probably not the best produce performer after sea freight, however there was a void to fill.

Looking ahead, if the time, research and development is invested, this may result in new, different varieties emerging which could have a better flavour, size and colour. Research and development are key and an area where money needs to go back into the industry.

As mangoes usually grow in the developing world, historically there hasn’t been a lot of investment into varietal development. Perhaps with the climate challenges being faced, it will drive more money into research to find solutions for the future.

Now, most mango we see are monoembryonic, meaning every mango fruit seed you plant, the result is a brand-new variety – this can take years to develop and there are some exciting new varieties on the tip of commercialisation that tick boxes for flavour, shelf life, size and colour.

How is the integration of the Ripe Now business as SH Pratt Group Tropical going?

We are adapting to the new ways of working after joining together, to discover what are the synergies and the best ways forward.

When you realise you have a big brother supporting you, it enables you to achieve wonderful things that perhaps, as a smaller company, we couldn’t do before. It opens up new opportunities we can achieve with the passion and drive we have as a team!

How is the UK consumer market for mangoes currently, and what would help the sector grow?

Consumer penetration remains relatively low and to grow the market would require a level of education to consumers in the different varieties, plus how to prepare and use mangoes.

The thoughts are that with a product that is a more premium price (certainly compared to staples like bananas or apples) that consumers need confidence they can use the fruit and that it is going to be enjoyed and not wasted.

Repeat sales require consistency and if you can deliver something good for the consumer to enjoy, they will buy it again but there’s still a lot to do when it comes to market share.

We’ve seen the success of processed mango, within packs of fresh-cut fruit salads and fresh cut mango proving successful.

They provide convenience and consumers don’t need to ripen the mango or cut it – it’s ready to eat straight out of the store.

We hope to see growth of individual mangoes being purchased in supermarkets and to achieve this everyone must get it right, from the growers to the importers, to ensure we’re delivering a good product every time.

We’ve come a long way and consistency is far better, but mango is a very variable product. I do believe there is a mango for everyone, but everyone does not like the same mango.