If you think you’re seeing a lot of Peruvian produce coming into the U.S. these days, you’re right.
“Peru is becoming the new giant exporter of fruits and vegetables from South America to the world,” says Xavier Equihua, who wears multiple hats as CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Peruvian Avocado Commission, co-president of the U.S.-Peru Blueberry Council and
U.S. representative for the Peruvian asparagus industry.
Peruvian exports to the U.S. in some cases now surpass exports from countries like Chile and Mexico, he says, but it’s not just any fruits and vegetables.
“Most of the fruits and vegetables they’re exporting are in the superfood category,” he says.
“There are very few countries that can say their main exports are superfoods,” he says.
Equihua attributes Peru’s agricultural growth to a combination of the country’s climate and its product diversification.“The climate conditions of Peru are ideal for growing superfoods,” he says.
Avocados, a leading export item, start arriving from Peru in the spring, and they’re usually available in promotable volume in the U.S. until September or October, Equihua says.
About 30% of Peru’s avocado exports come to the U.S., making it the country’s second-largest export destination. Europe is first with 60%, and about 10% goes to Asia and other South American countries.
Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., is in its fourth season importing Peruvian avocados, says Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.
Since Calavo’s Peruvian grower has many young trees, Wedin anticipates “reasonably good” supplies of large fruit – size 40 and larger.
Peruvian avocados have a lower oil content than California fruit, he says, and prices typically are lower, enabling buyers to obtain large fruit for a medium price.
On an annual basis, Peru provides 5% to 10% of the avocados sold in the U.S., he says, but during the peak summer period, they can account for 25% of the nations’ avocado volume.
As a country, the U.S. is the No. 1 importer of Peruvian citrus, but combined, the European nations take more of the fruit, Equihua says.
The main window for citrus exports – mainly easy-peelers, like minneolas, clementines and satsumas – is February to September, he says.
Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International has seen a 100% increase in its Peruvian citrus volume over the past five years, says CEO Mayda Sotomayor.
The company ships primarily minneolas and other easy-peelers from May 1 to Oct. 1.
There are a couple of reasons Seald Sweet turns to Peruvian citrus.
“Peru has the earliest easy-peelers in the Southern Hemisphere,” she says.
The early Peruvian fruit fills a supply gap when California murcotts finish.
Peru also provides late-season easy-peelers – like murcotts and tangos -- before the rest of the Southern Hemisphere does.
Sotomayor is pleased with the quality of the citrus items Peruvian growers export.
“Their quality is excellent and has continued to improve as they adjust it the nuances of the American market,” she says.
Asparagus, grown year-round in Peru, is available in the U.S. during the spring, summer and fall, Equihua says.
“Asparagus was always the big item in Peru,” says Mike Bowe, owner and president of Dave’s Specialty Imports, Medley, Fla.
But the plant has a 20-year lifecycle that’s just about up for many growers, he says. And some are looking for other items to plant.
Blueberries and table grapes have become big export items, he says.
Peruvian farmers offer some of the latest grape varieties, Bowe says, and they’re trying to figure out which blueberry varieties work best.
But even with some growers abandoning asparagus, volume likely will remain strong.
“The more mature the production gets, usually the higher the yields,” he says. “Peru’s still going to be a big factor in asparagus.”
Blueberries are grown year-round, but they’re exported to the U.S. in the fall and winter, Equihua says.
Peru has the U.S. market to itself during much of October and November, since it’s the only region in the Americas producing the fruit at that time, he says.
Looking at some other commodities, pomegranates were approved for export to the U.S. in 2016 and are available from springtime in the U.S. until early summer, Equihua says.
Figs come to the U.S. from Peru during the winter, when there is no U.S. production.
For the future, Equihua thinks that Peruvian blueberry production likely will surpass avocados.
“These are products that people actually like,” he says. “They’re good for you also.”
And he expects to see exports of quinoa, which originated in Peru, as well as other grains increase as demand increases worldwide.