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Peru shows it has more than asparagus

Here’s a fun fact: Peru is the third-largest exporter of blueberries in the world, with more than 10,000 acres dedicated to growing the superfruit.

In 2017, Peru exported 4,000 tons of blueberries worth $34 million to China, making it that country’s second-largest supplier behind Chile. Last year, Peru exported over 88 million pounds, a 42 percent increase over 2016.

Peru is a country of 31 million people with a GDP of over $190 billion per year. Geographically, it has a little of everything — mountains, Amazon rainforest, and coastline — and a great deal of biodiversity. It also boasts an ideal temperate climate for growing everything from blueberries and grapes to asparagus and avocados.

Grapes, bananas, and avocados are the top three fruit exports. Other fruit exports include blueberries, mandarin oranges, and tangelos; other vegetable exports include sweet onions, canned piquillo peppers, as well as fresh, canned, and frozen artichokes. Artichokes, especially, have enjoyed significantly higher demand with foodservice and retail customers in the United States.

Peruvian asparagus — fresh and frozen — is a very hot commodity and has been shipped to the United States since 1990. It ranks second behind onions in terms of the most popular fresh vegetables exported from the country, and Peru just happens to be the world’s largest exporter of asparagus.

According to Peruvian industry group AGAP, fresh fruit and vegetable exports rose by 38 percent to $772 million during the first trimester of 2018. Leading the way were avocado exports, which increased a whopping 146 percent to $49.6 million.

And even though this particular commodity is grown all year, the peak season for asparagus runs from September through January, making it easy for Peruvian exporters to stock U.S. and Canadian supermarket shelves during the North American off season.

Priscilla Lleras-Bush of the Peruvian Asparagus Importer’s Association notes that in addition to conventionally grown asparagus, the market for organic asparagus is taking off as well.

Most U.S. demand, she notes, “has been for conventionally grown asparagus; however, the fruit and vegetable market has seen such success in the organic category that the demand for organics is ever-increasing.”

“The agro industry in Peru is sophisticated,” says Robert Colescott, founder and CEO of Pompano Beach, FL-based Southern Specialties Inc., with growers utilizing “modern irrigation technologies and being at what he characterizes as the forefront of agriculture innovation. “Their infrastructure, postharvest handling practices, and integrated pest management systems are a model for other producing countries,” he says.

Xavier Equihua, president and CEO of Avocados from Peru, points to the European market as a model for sourcing from a variety of providers — and suggests the United States could benefit from following a similar path.

“The United States needs to be supplied by multiple origins,” Equihua advises. “Chile is out of the market because it’s concentrating in other markets, while Colombia will become a player in contrasting seasons.

“Then you have other origins and other states within Mexico besides Michoacán that may eventually be able to supply the U.S. market,” says Equihua. “When other Mexican states can supply, that will be a game changer.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.