Avocado Express Volume 2 #1

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En Español

VOL. 2 #1

Will Colombia be the next U.S. avocado exporter?
by Emiliano Escobedo, Executive Director

 

 

 

Here's a little-known avofact: Colombia enjoys one of the world's highest per capita consumptions of avocados. Its crop was estimated at 500 million pounds in 2009. The very marketable Hass variety currently comprises only about 25 percent of the crop - around 14,000 acres. With a population of around 47 million, that per-person 10.5 pounds per year is more than twice the 4.5 pounds Americans eat. It is no wonder that an energetic cadre of Colombian avocado growers has not only emerged but is thinking big.

Responding to an invitation to the 4th National Reunion of the Colombian Avocado Industry, organized by my good friend Juan Camilo Ruiz and the "Corporación de Antioquia del Aguacate", I recently visited Medellin to get an update about where the Colombian avocado industry is heading. The answer: Pretty much everywhere. Last year, the group began a process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could lead to permission to export here. The growers are also exploring the potential of playing an important role during certain weeks of the year in the European market and, of course, working hard to expand their domestic customers who are mostly familiar with greenskin varieties.

Progress presents many challenges for the relatively young Hass Industry in Colombia. To date, the growers have yet to form a single voice, a problem in a country with diverse growing conditions. Different regions battle diverse problems, and they will soon find that the whole is more than the sum of its parts given their recently-announced national association representing the Colombian avocado industry.

Transporting avocados that are ready for market can be daunting in a country whose transportation infrastructure is yet to be fully modernized. In fact, my hosts told me that it can be more expensive to get fruit to a packing house and then to a port than it costs to send the fruit from the port to Europe. Packing technology, and access to quality packaging material remain limited. And as with many tropical climates, pest problems must be solved.

 

            
            


   

 

Despite these obstacles, the Colombian avocado industry boasts great potential. Colombia is the only country in South America with direct access to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Though there are mixed feelings about the image of Colombia as a "brand" they have had many successes in the past. Many will remember the iconic Colombian Juan Valdez in advertising that created a strong brand image for Colombian Coffee (if you also remember the name of Juan's mule - Conchita - you are a testament to the creation of a very successful brand). In 2012, Westfalia, which provides warehousing and logistics services for food producers, partnered with some of the largest and most serious growers in a venture that resulted in about 15 containers shipped to Europe. This was a big win for Colombia and it is motivating many more growers to meet the challenges of exporting fruit to global markets. In fact, their goal for next year is to export 100 containers.

As in the case of Michoacán, the climate that is just right for growing coffee is also very favorable for growing avocados. Combining great climate with good soil and plenty of rain creates conditions for several blooms in a single year that yield quality fruit. There are thousands of small coffee farmers with less than an acre throughout Colombia eyeing the success of avocados. Pests are a problem, but they can be managed; and the cost of land, labor and other resources are relatively cheap.

Water availability is a non-issue. In visiting some of the orchards, I was impressed with the level of sophistication, which I have not always found in other countries . From the standpoint of quality operations and quality fruit, Colombia can be competitive in the world market because their climate allows them to produce avocados year round. Another factor that bodes well for expansion success is a strong and loyal domestic market, which has thrived and grown without any promotional effort.

So what does this mean for the current market and countries that market avocados in the U.S.? Should they be worried about additional competition? For sure, we will be paying attention to Colombian industry developments. But it is a Hass Avocado Board strategic imperative to maintain a global perspective on its business. What happens in Europe affects the U.S. market and vice versa. If Colombia ships to Europe in its likely window in March and April, its growers will establish their market prior to that of Spain's avocado growers. Peru may see this as a good season as well, creating competition with the Spaniards. On the other hand, Spain and Peru are not limited to European markets and can go elsewhere, including the U.S.

The HAB community is well aware of the value of cooperative distribution because it works very well across the United States now. But the other reality we must accept is that new entrants to the market are inevitable. Thinking about growing the market for everybody is what drives the Hass Avocado Board because we recognize that's critical to our industry's long-term sustainability.

We have conquered these competitive challenges in the past by increasing demand from consumers, which is expected to reach nearly 1.7 billion pounds this year. Expanding our customers - and encouraging them to eat more - will keep us successful in the future. We will watch the globalization of our industry with great interest as we explore new and better ways to participate.

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