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Savoring South America.

Byline: Jennifer Strailey

New players and creative campaigns are driving sales of fresh and flavorful imports.

South American produce is taking the industry by storm. From Peru's fresh sources of Hass avocados, to exotic fruits from Ecuador, to exclusive specialties from Colombia and the succulent staples of Chile, the region is bursting with opportunities for progressive grocers.

The soaring demand in this country for Hispanic and Asian produce, both of which South America cultivates well, continues to play a significant role in driving sales, as does the United States' seemingly insatiable appetite for avocados.

Ever on the hunt for new flavor sensations, consumers are also drawn to tropical and unique seasonal items from our neighbors to the south.

"We have grown tremendously over the last 10 years," says Jessie Capote, EVP and a principal of J&C Tropicals, a Homestead, Fla.-based tropicals supplier specializing in more than 60 produce items, as well as seasonal specialties, many of which are from South America.

"The growth in South American produce is twofold. The biggest driver is the increase in the Hispanic and Asian demographics in the U.S.," he notes. "The other reason many of these products have crossed over is because they are showcased at restaurants, and more retailers are doing a good job of merchandising them."

Powerful promotional campaigns, created by a number of South American industry associations and implemented by retailers around the country, are helping to seal the deal. The result is a bounty of South American-grown fruits and vegetables in shoppers' baskets.


Far from the new kid on the block, Chile is a well-established provider of grapes, blueberries, cherries and other produce to the United States. Its more mature market presence has allowed organizations like the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association to introduce increasingly targeted promotions aimed at keeping the country's reputation for quality top of mind with retailers and consumers alike.

"Gone are the days when we'd push one nationwide promotion program and a few point-of-sale pieces," says Karen Brux of the San Carlos, Calif.-based association. "Retailers have different customer bases, different communication needs. We talk with retailers one by one to understand the best way to move the dial in their stores."

In 2014, the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association introduced a promotion called The Great Grape Giveaway. A total of 298 stores from 17 retail chains across the United States participated in the promotion. The association hopes to expand on the promotion in 2015, with the goal of doubling the number of entries.

Knowing that the way to a consumer's heart and stomach is increasingly through social media, the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association provides retail marketing and social media staff, along with dietitians who can give retailers the information they need to populate their social media platforms.

"There are over 48 million Twitter users in the U.S., Facebook has 152 million daily active users in the U.S. and Canada, and Pinterest has 53 million monthly unique users in the U.S.," notes Brux. "If you want to be an effective marketer, you simply have to be utilizing these channels."

Helping consumers find new and flavorful ways to incorporate produce into their diets is equally important. "More and more produce companies are partnering with complementary products in order to educate consumers on the versatility and many uses of their product," observes Brux.

With this in mind, the association recently developed a new RPC wrap for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association. The vinyl four-color wrap, which goes around a stack of RPCs, features images of easy usage ideas, including sandwiches, egg scrambles and stews.


These days, any mention of produce from Peru is going to bring avocados immediately to mind. "When Peru came into the Hass avocado game, many in the industry thought the market would crash -- that there wasn't enough demand -- but on the contrary, it's been an amazing success story," says Capote, of J&C Tropicals.

Seemingly overnight, Peru became the second-largest avocado importer in the United States According to InfoTrade data, the volume and dollar value of avocados from Peru in 2014 increased 196 percent and 216 percent, respectively, over the previous year.

Of course, it wasn't really an overnight success. Extensive planning and strategic marketing preceded the U.S. debut of Hass avocados from Peru. The Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC) recently wrapped its second annual Monumental Flavor marketing campaign for the fruit, and is already preparing for 2015, which is projected to be its biggest year ever in terms of amount of avocados imported.

"It was an unprecedented campaign because 10 of the industry's top retailers, from Walmart to Costco to Ahold and Safeway, participated around the country," asserts Xavier Equihua, CEO of PAC, in Washington, D.C. The campaign included radio advertising in 27 markets for 10 solid weeks, complemented by robust social media engagement.

"What we did differently this time was, instead of a typical radio spot with a retailer tag at the end, we mentioned the retailer's name right from the start, so it sounded like a joint effort, which it was," explains Equihua. "It was very successful, and because the ad frequency was so high, consumers really got to know a new player in the market."

This year, Peru sold approximately 150 million pounds of avocados in the United States from July through September. "In 2015, we expect to do 200 million pounds in the market in three months," asserts Equihua.

But Peru is more than a grower of Hass avocados. "Chile has always been on the radar as a source of excellent-quality produce from South America, and now Peru is gaining strength in the market," notes Equihua, who predicts the country will be one of the world's largest blueberry producers in the next three to four years. Peru is already the largest asparagus supplier to the United States.

The time is right for promoting Peruvian produce in the United States, observes Ricardo Romero, director of the Trade Commission of Peru, Los Angeles.

"In the last five years, Peruvian gastronomy has become a favorite in the U.S. Some specialized magazines have said that Peruvian cuisine is the "next big thing' for foodies around the world," says Romero. "This trend is generating a snowball effect around the United States, because nowadays, there are more restaurants and hotels that are including Peruvian dishes in their menus. In the Los Angeles area alone, there are approximately 84 Peruvian restaurants."

When it comes to merchandising fruits and vegetables from Peru, beyond taking advantage of the POS and other marketing support available from PAC, the commission recommends a number of strategic tips for raising consumer awareness.

"Get the produce out of the produce section," counsels Romero. For instance, retailers can feature Peruvian avocados for guacamole making, and tortilla chips in a primary location, near the entrance of the store on the morning of a big football game. "Another example of this strategy," he adds, "would be to place Peruvian asparagus and Peruvian snacks next to the steak counter on a busy Sunday."

Retailers also may want to consider creating a display of lesser-known Peruvian produce. Examples might include sacha inchi, indigenous to Peru and high in omega-3 fatty acids and complete proteins; aguaymanto, rich in vitamin C and antioxidants; and pepino melon, known for its delicate honey flavor.


Although not as well known for produce in the United States as some of its South American counterparts, Ecuador is home to several new and exciting products that have entered the market in recent weeks.

Agro Innova, in Weston, Fla., is appealing to health-conscious Millennials and the Baby Boomer generation with a new functional beverage made from Ecuadorian cacao pulp. CEO Joseph Montgomery, a seventh-generation cacao farmer, is the driving force behind Suavva, a South American line of cacao pulp-based fruit smoothies.

"There is one part of the cacao pod that has never been explored properly -- the pulp," says Montgomery. "We found a way to commercially extract this pulp, and it has a really nice flavor that is tangy, sweet and almost citrusy."

While Montgomery had dreamed of a beverage made with cacao pulp for years, the key to making Suavva smoothies a reality was the advent of high-pressure processing (HPP). "In earlier versions, we couldn't get the flavors of South America to come across, but with HPP, the cacao juice has the same fresh taste you'd get at the plantation," he asserts.

Cacao pulp contains certified antioxidant activity, as well as several vitamins and minerals, all of which are maintained using HPP. "It's a way to enjoy the benefits of chocolate without the added sugars and fats of a chocolate bar," notes Montgomery.

Suavva smoothies are available in four flavors: Amazing Cacao, Merry Mango, Blissful Berry and Chocolatey Cheer.

While J&C sources a host of produce from South and Central America, "it's mangos that claim the day with South American produce," says Capote. The company has been supplying mangos from Brazil since September, and just last month introduced a new specialty mango from Ecuador called Nam Doc Mai.

"There are hundreds of varieties of mangos, but most people don't know many of them by name," notes Capote. The Nam Doc Mai is a smaller mango, similar to a Francine, but with a twist, he adds.


While Colombia has been long beloved for its bananas, the country is now looking to become a more significant produce player in the United States with pineapples, limes, fresh herbs, and its own Colombian goldenberries, also known as Cape gooseberries.

At October's Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif, Proexport Colombia exhibited in a 300-square-foot booth, with the idea of exploring business opportunities in the U.S. market. Proexport also brought a delegation of 24 exporters, most of whom are already selling to the U.S. market.

"We wanted to reinforce what we are already doing, and also present Colombia as a sourcing possibility for U.S. companies," explains Juan Barrera, U.S. agribusiness director for Proexport Colombia, in regard to the country's presence at PMA.

With the recent approval of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), goldenberry (uchuva) producers and distributors from Cundinamarca and Boyaca, mountainous regions in Colombia, will soon be able to export this exotic fruit to the United States without cold treatment, a benefit that will reduce costs and shipping times.

"We believe we can start exporting to the U.S. in a month," says Barrera of the goldenberries.

With Hass avocado sales hotter than hot, it isn't surprising that Colombia is also exploring the possibility of exporting avocados to the United States. "Everything is set up to start promotions," notes Barrera, who says the East Coast would be its target market. "We're hopeful that if we're not exporting Hass avocados by the next PMA, then definitely by the following one, in Orlando."

"Chile has always been on the radar as a source of excellent-quality produce from South America, and now Peru is gaining strength in the market."

--Xavier Equihua, Peru Avocado Commission

"When Peru came into the Hass avocado game, many in the industry thought the market would crash -- that there wasn't enough demand -- but on the contrary, it's been an amazing success story."

--Jessie Capote, J&C Tropicals

"In earlier versions, we couldn't get the flavors of South America to come across, but with HPP, the cacao juice has the same fresh taste you'd get at the plantation."

--Joseph Montgomery, Agro Innova

Astounding Avocados

According to the Hass Avocado Board, year-to-date dollar sales of avocados for 2014 are approaching $850 million, up nearly 18 percent from the previous year. Starting in 2013, the board's data from IRI regions and markets reflect an expanded retail data set that includes sales and volume from Walmart, Sam's Club, Target and BJ's Wholesale Club, in addition to traditional grocery retailers.
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Author:Strailey, Jennifer
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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