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Peruvian citrus season winding down

by Tad Thompson | August 19, 2010
Peru's citrus export season is winding down, with better-than-expected results.

Exporter Alex Gallagher, general manager of Procesadora Laran, headquartered in Chincha, Peru, said that the season was stronger than some anticipated.

In an Aug. 16 interview with The Produce News, Mr. Gallagher said that going into this citrus season, "We were worried. We expected a huge volume of fruit, which means, sometimes, that you will have not-so-good quality and not- so-good prices. Things were better" than expected in pricing, "and at the agricultural level we had less volume, so there was better quality."

As of Aug. 16, La Calera had "two or three more weeks to go" in the citrus- shipping season, he said.

Preseason expectations were to increase citrus exports to the United States by 50 percent, he said. But because volumes were not so high, the increase proved to be 30 percent, so oversupply did not affect prices "as much as expected. Quality was good" in terms of expectations. "Quality was sometimes a little shaky, but we were able to have pretty good-quality fruit, so we were happy with this season."

Procesadora Laran, known as Prolan, is the agroindustrial branch of Grupo La Calera.

Owned by the Masías family, La Calera involves farms that total about 3,500 acres on Peru's southern coast. In addition to producing 40,000 tons of citrus, grapes and avocados annually, La Calera has 3 million laying hens and that produce 1.5 million eggs daily.

La Calera Group employs close to 2,000 people, providing good working conditions with fair wages above local standard conditions to all its workers, according to Mr. Gallagher.

"As a group, we are the biggest citrus producer in Peru," Mr. Gallagher said. The firm packs under the "Gold Cup" and "Inka Gold" brands.

Of La Calera's expanding citrus production, he noted, "If we take 2010 as a benchmark, by 2013 we will double the production of citrus from our own fields."

Satsumas represent about 35 percent of La Calera's citrus volume. Minneolas account for 30 percent and clementines, including Clemenvilla, are 15 percent. Afourer, also known as W. Murcott, is a variety that is increasing in production that now represents 10 percent of La Calera's citrus production. Honey tangerines are 5 percent and other citrus varieties are the remaining 5 percent.

Small-volume citrus varieties exported by La Calera are Navels, grapefruit and Nova, which is also known as Clemenvilla.

"Our main citrus varieties have traditionally been the Satsuma and the Minneola. Currently, we are now expanding in Afourer and clementines. These varieties have a good market both in the USA and in Europe," Mr. Gallagher said.

The Satsuma shipping peak is in March and April. Minneolas peak in June and Afourer and other late varieties peak in August.

La Calera prefers to "produce our own fruit even though about 30-35 percent of our fruit does not come from our group. We like to grow in varieties that we feel will be marketable in the future."

La Calera packs fruit for 10 independent growers.

The firm exported fresh citrus to the European Union - particularly the United Kingdom - long before the United States market opened three years ago.

La Calera's U.S. partner in marketing citrus is Andean Sun Produce Inc., based in Miami. "Nearly all of our fruit for the U.S." goes to Andean Sun, Mr. Gallagher said.

Since the U.S. market opened, sales for La Calera have increased to represent 35 percent of total citrus exports.

La Calera exports to the Canadian market via Vancouver importer Krown Produce Inc.

Other markets for La Calera citrus are Ireland, Russia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and China.

In the grape business, beyond its established European market, La Calera has exported grapes to the United States for five or six years. Flames start in late November and Red Globes begin in December - about six or eight weeks before the Chileans enter the seasonal market.

Peru harvests avocados from February through August. The U.S. Department of Agriculture just recently opened the U.S. market to Peruvian avocados, and Mr. Gallagher said that few, if any, Peruvian avocado growers became involved in a partial shipping season for the U.S. market.

Beyond the aforementioned crops, La Calera also produces limited volumes of pomegranates and yellow sweet onions.

"The focus and strong will of the ownership is the biggest asset," said Mr. Gallagher. "They have always believed in Peru and its people, investing when needed and growing at a steady pace. Knowledge of the land and the varieties we plant is also very important."