Statisfying taste for tropical fruit
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CTA. 1988. Statisfying taste for tropical fruit. Spore 13. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44779
Many ACP countries are no w developing their production of tropical fruit in order to exploit the growing demand of European consumers for such exotic produce. But to compete on European markets, the commercial opportunities and constraints...
Many ACP countries are no w developing their production of tropical fruit in order to exploit the growing demand of European consumers for such exotic produce. But to compete on European markets, the commercial opportunities and constraints thatgovern the marketing of perishable exports must be fully understood. Less than a century ago, oranges were a special treat reserved for the Christmas stocking. Today, however, citrus fruit, bananas and pineapples are eaten throughout the year. Imports by EEC countries of other tropical fruit, such as avocados, kiwis and mangoes, have also grown dramatically over the last few years, and these are now consumed universally. This is partly the result of a growing familiarity with such fruit which an increasing number of consumers have tasted during their vacations under the sun. Mango imports are an example of this development. They increased by 89% between 1983 and 1986. reaching 22,000 t, and in Great Britain their imports jumped 36.5% for 1985/86 alone! More than 100,000 t of avocados are now imported by EEC countries, an increase of 38% since 1983. In France, the avocado has now replaced the pineapple as the number two tropical fruit after the banana, which remains ahead despite its decreasing sales. In fact. the banana has become a victim of its own success: now almost as common as the apple, it is no longer bought for its exotic value. Other fruits that were practically unknown in northern countries only a few years ago have begun to be heavily marketed. This is the case with papaya whose imports in France, while still modest, increased by 50% in 1986. Lychees, limes, guavas and mangosteens are also nowadays allocated shelf space. Supply and demand To exploit this expanding market, ACP countries are among those that are trying to increase and diversify their exports. But the stiff competition that they face from Latin American and Mediterranean countries means that ACP suppliers cannot afford any mistakes. They must ensure regular shipments of high quality fruit in order to guarantee their place on European markets. For both foreign and domestic markets, improved production techniques must be accompanied by improved marketing. The mountains of mangoes left to rot in the Casamance region of Senegal, the avocados that end up being fed to pigs in western Cameroon, and the stacks of fruit refused entry into the EEC, all testify to the fact that increased production alone is not enough. Furthermore, the constraints imposed by transportation methods and consumer tastes have repercussions on agronomic choices. In many cases, transportation to distant countries or even to nearby cities remains the biggest obstacle to significant increases in production. Perishable fruit demands an efficient harvest, good packaging and prompt delivery. The amount that can be exported depends on the existence of well maintained roads air freight services or nearby ports. For most ACP countries, and notably land-locked countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, only direct air freight connections can be relied on. Unfortunately, the capacity of such services is often limited. Some producers, particularly those in Reunion and the Caribbean, have considerable potential to produce but are limited by poor export facilities. The same problem is faced by Guinea, which must improve its shipping capacities before increasing its fruit production. While maritime freight is less expensive, it is only feasible for large quantities. It also means that harvest dates as well as packaging and storing methods must be planned around the longer shipping periods. To help ensure success, all aspects of production, from the selection of varieties to final consumption, must be planned. This is exactly what was done for the fruit project started ten years ago in Burkina Faso. In addition to providing the domestic market with citrus fruit, papaya and mangoes, about one thousand small producers and a 1 65-ha irrigated orchard now supply more than 15% of the mangoes imported by France. Good co-ordination of harvests on-site packaging and rigorous export schedules (plus cash payments to farmers upon delivery) have all contributed to the success of this project. Once at the marketplace, equally intensive efforts must be continued in order to sell the fruit. This is more easily said than done, given the fact that tropical fruit is bought more for pleasure than for need. Consumers are the key Consumers themselves hold the key to expanded markets and attention must thus be focused on satisfying their tastes. Europeans judge fruit that they are less familiar with more on appearance than eating qualities. The colour, size and form of fruit all play a big role in their eyes. Furthermore, the first variety of a new fruit that arrives on the market becomes a standard that is subsequently very difficult to change. To sell well, mangoes must not only have a good texture and not smell of turpentine, but most importantly should be highly coloured. Despite its fine taste and good handling characteristics, the Amelie variety, a mango with a yellow-green skin that makes up most of the exports from West Africa, is not having much success with consumers who prefer the red skinned mango from Latin America. The production of such varieties has thus become an objective of agricultural research programmes in African countries wishing to expand their exports. From time to time, advertising campaigns are able to overcome consumer resistance based on habit or subjective intrepretations. There are problems in France with selling limes that tend to be more yellow than the green lemon (citron vert) as they are called in French. This forced many suppliers to provide limes that were so green that they were immature. Efforts are now being made to call a lime a lime in order to avoid disappointing francophone consumers whose language makes them think that limes should always be green. For similar reasons, people think that a Iychee must be red and a papava yellow. The size of fruit is also an important criterion. Avocados must not be too large and should preferably be shaped like a pear, following the example given by Israel, the largest exporter. While African avocadoes may taste better, they have practically been eliminated from the market because of their large size and poor handling characteristics. As for the papaya, it must also be of a small size as well as easy to ripen and keep. Varieties are now being studied which could meet these demands. Consistent standards vital Appearance apart, strict quality control is needed for fruit destined for export. Sub-standard produce can easily make new consumers change their mind about buying exotic fruit and it also makes importers question the reliability of their suppliers. In any event, once a market develops for a certain fruit, the EEC establishes strict standards that must be respected governing phytosanitary quality, size and packaging. Unfortunately, these standards are often based on the first variety of a fruit to be introduced or on those exported by the largest producers who control the market. This can cause problems for new or smaller producers. These standards are liable to rapid change as the market develops, and producer countries must keep abreast of such developments in order to provide the variety or fruit that stands the best chance of selling. Once such produce is established internationally attention must shift to long-term agronomic developments that can guarantee future sales. Extending the season Tropical fruit sells best during the northern winter when local produce is out of season. Papaya, which matures between November and May, thus has considerable potential in developed countries. Cote d'lvoire and, more recently Burkina Faso, are becoming major producers after Brazil. Lychee deliveries from Reunion, Mauritius and Madagascar are also well timed, arriving during the festive season. Unfortunately, their production period is very short (late November to December), and this has led to efforts to develop varieties that can be harvested over a longer period. Meanwhile, the EEC has authorized sulphurisation of Iychees for a three-year period to extend their shelf-life. Mangoes from West Africa (mainly Burkina Faso and Cote d'lvoire) also suffer from a short production season, between April and June, when markets are flooded. By developing both early and late-maturing varieties, the season can be extended from three to four months. This would enable exports to begin in March, thus increasing European sales, and enabling urban markets in Africa to be supplied for a longer time. Kenya, which produces between November and March, is now competing with Brazil and Peru. The tropical production of temperate zone fruit (when it is out of season in Europe) is a new possibility currently being studied by countries with 'appropriate sub-climates in their uplands, for example, Cameroon, Madagascar and Swaziland. The Fruit and Citrus Research Institute in France has helped develop the production of peaches and strawberries in Reunion and these are now being exported to Europe in the autumn and early winter. Similarly, melons also have considerable potential in both European and local markets Although once considered as a luxury product, tropical fruit has been coming down in price as sales go up. High production costs, however, result in very slim margins for exporters. Avocados grown in humid tropical regions, for example, require expensive plant protection treatment against parasites. It thus appears more attractive to grow them in sub-tropical regions where a number of orchards are now being developed. The same cost-cutting measures are needed for passion fruit production in the French Antilles where labour is expensive: varieties that produce at least 20 t per hectare must be found. Several possibilities have been studied and are slated for trial in Africa Increased production generated by strong European demand also profits local markets in ACP countries. Supplies reaching their own cities have generally been far below demand and fruit consumption remains low in Africa (8-10 kg per person per year). So, much remains to be done to satisfy local needs. In fact, fruit production can be an important development factor when it is done in conjunction with other food crops by small farmers. It provides additional revenue which is especially welcome when it arrives during the off-season - as with mangoes in West Africa. To make the most of these various ways of boosting production, many ACP countries (often supported by the EEC) are now launching major commercial fruit production ventures, such as the one in northern Cote d'lvoire which is designed for both export and local consumption. Village gardens in northern Cameroon, school orchards or women's gardens which combine fruit and market production, are some of the ways in which local people are being familiarized with fruit that has not been part of their traditional diet. Although its future is far from guaranteed, tropical fruit has considerable potential because its market, whether international or local, is far from being saturated. Many kinds of fruit still remain to be introduced to northern consumers and there are others that have yet to be cultivated outside their natural habitat. Furthermore, the processing of fresh fruit into pulp, juice or concentrate is still not widespread and represents good possibilities for producing countries to increase their exports. In order to hang on to their place in the tropical fruit market, however, exporters must be able to adapt to the demands of consumers who are often fickle and to the even more unforgiving laws of international business. BIBLIOGRAPHY COLEACP Information Bulletins Proceedings of the annual meeting of IRFA/CIRAD Fruitiers et diversification. Montpellier. September 1987