Hispanic specialties of a generation ago—such as avocados, chile peppers, and cilantro—are now staples in produce departments, appealing to shoppers of all ages and ethnicities. Although consumers have embraced many of these fruits and vegetables, the trend is primarily driven by the palates of younger, millennial Hispanic shoppers who have not only proven immensely powerful in building interest in these specialty items, but in using their considerable influence and spending power to get these items into retailers across the country.
Imports from Mexico
Promoting specialty produce is only half of the equation; getting these fruits and vegetables into grocery stores and supercenters is another. Mexico, the U.S’s top source for Hispanic commodities, has undergone tremendous change in the last 20 years, building on the historic North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. From innovations in the field and high-tech greenhouses to food safety protocols and streamlined logistics, Mexican suppliers have upped their game to keep up with demand.
“There has been a tremendous rise in imported volume, especially avocados,” remarks Bret Erickson, director of the Texas International Produce Association. “We’ve seen double-digit growth through Texas ports across the board.”
And there’s no end in sight: avocado import volume, for example, rose 35 percent from 2011 to 2012 and 18 percent for 2013 and 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), while mango shipments from Mexico jumped 35 percent in the first quarter of 2015 alone. Pepper imports through Texas are on the rise, according to Erickson, and the USDA also reports steady quantities of chayote, jicama, malanga, and taro root coming from Mexico.
Growing & Production
Improvements in growing technology are helping producers keep a steady supply of fruits and vegetables moving across the border. Central Mexico’s protected agriculture industry, including greenhouses and hoop houses, continue to expand in size and scope, shipping more and more volume to California, Texas, and Arizona.
A new irrigation district, in the tropical part of southern Sinaloa along Mexico’s western coast, could help increase tropical volume from the country. Lance Jungmeyer, director of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), based in Nogales, AZ expects to see more citrus, mango, papaya, and lychee exports from Sinaloa. “This irrigation district is much, much closer to the United States than other tropical districts in Mexico,” he explains.
“I’ve seen many more people growing in Sinaloa than before,” confirms Cristina Lopez, U.S. sales director for Alamo Produce, LLC in Los Angeles. Alamo sources mainly from three growing families in Sinaloa, on the western coast of Mexico, shipping tomatoes, tomatillos, Serrano peppers, and bell peppers to the United States.