When Peruvians look to export their asparagus, North America isn’t necessarily their best option.
“They can be more competitive pricewise in other parts of the world,” said Jeff Friedman, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based CarbAmericas Inc. “They don’t necessarily have to come to the U.S. any more. Demand for asparagus worldwide is up.”
Europe, Canada and Australia are among the rivals to the U.S. for Peruvian supplies, Friedman said. India just opened its doors to Peruvian asparagus this year.
China could be another market on the horizon, said Peter Warren, marketing and sales director for Pompano Beach-based Ayco Farms Inc.
“Peru is very creative at finding alternative markets — Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand,” he said.
Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, said North America hasn’t been significantly affected by strong demand from Europe and other markets.
“There is a steady demand for Peruvian fresh asparagus here in the U.S., as the product continues to gain recognition for its nutritious attributes, value and convenience,” Lleras said. “I can only see that the demand would increase here in the U.S. — as it has historically.”
Carlos Solf, procurement director for Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties, also sees increased competition from overseas.
“Peru is increasing volumes in Europe and Asia as demand growths in those areas,” Solf said.
In addition, Peruvian growers are replacing asparagus with grapes, citrus and avocados, but it won’t last forever, he said.
“It’s cyclical,” Solf said. “Growers will come back to asparagus when they see the growth of other markets and the price increase.”
Hungrier processing market
It’s not just other countries that are taking fresh Peruvian asparagus that in the past may have been slated for the U.S., importers said.
It’s also more Peruvian asparagus winding up in processed markets.
“(0ne) thing that’s kept pricing up has been the advent of processed markets in Peru,” Warren said. “When U.S. (prices) aren’t good enough, they seem to be doing a lot more volume that ever, at better prices.”
“The processed market is bigger now,” Friedman said. “It’s one of the reasons why there will be good returns back to growers in the next few years. A lot of processors have to fulfill that business, and it’s eating up the volumes going to fresh.”
China’s growing interest
Peru is seeing a surge in demand for processed product largely because of changes in the Chinese market, Friedman said.
As China’s economy has grown, so has the appetite among its people for goods that once were predominantly export goods.
“China is a big producer of processed, and several years ago they were a large exporter,” he said. “Now, they’re huge consumers of their own product.”
A food safety incident with Chinese asparagus is another reason for the surge in demand for Peruvian, Friedman said.
“When there was that scare a few years back, a lot of customers took a step back.”
Warren agreed. Customers who switched from Peru to China several years ago for their processed asparagus are now switching back to Peru.
And China aside, the sticker shock of fresh asparagus can often steer U.S. consumers toward processed.
“Consumers are not going to pay $5.99 for a bunch of asparagus. Our economy can’t absorb that.”
The 8- or 12-ounce bag of frozen asparagus for $1.29 is going to look a lot more appealing, Friedman said.
CarbAmericas has a good business selling frozen asparagus to European and Pacific Rim customers.