Floyd Avillo (from left), president and chief operating officer at FreshPro Food Distributors, West Caldwell, N.J., visits with Thomas Chan, CEO of General Produce Co., Sacramento, Calif., and Mark Derby, general manager of General Produce, Dec. 11 at the New York Produce Show and Conference Global Trade Symposium. ( Tom Karst )

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As population and per-capita consumption growth slows in the U.S., fresh produce marketers may be wise to focus on faster-expanding markets in Asia and Africa.

That was the advice of Miguel Gomez, associate professor at Cornell University and speaker at the New York Produce Show and Conference Global Trade Symposium, on Dec. 11.

For global suppliers of fresh produce in the U.S. and in other countries, the U.S. market is typically seen as the “destination market” for high-quality fresh produce. Consumers in the U.S. are willing to buy fresh produce items year-round and the retail market is well developed.

“My argument for the future is that the U.S. industry has been very good at taking advantage of the global produce industry by becoming more integrated in targeting the domestic market, but I think the challenge in the future, in the next 30 years, will be how to build on those strengths to reach markets we don’t know much about,” Gomez said.

He noted that global exports of all fresh fruits and vegetables totaled $35 billion in 2001 and rose to $110 billion by 2016.

“We are becoming more and more a global industry,” he said.

But demand for fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t growing very fast in developed markets like the U.S., Europe and Japan. It will, however, grow in parts of the world with rising population and per-capita income, he said.

By 2050, the world will add 2 billion people, mostly in Africa and Asia.

Much of the growth will be in metropolitan regions.

“The number of people moving from the countryside and the way cities are growing is astounding, and these people will be more dependent on supermarkets,” he said.

Asia is emerging as a key market for the next 25 years, particularly for specialty produce, and Africa’s huge increase in population also will make it a more attractive market, he said.

Even now, a significant number of U.S. fruit marketers are selling online in China, with six of the top 10 fruit producers from Washington having a presence on China’s online business-to-consumer platform Tmall. Driscoll’s started a store on Tmall in June 2017, and more than 110,000 pounds of Northwest cherries were sold on Tmall in two days in early July last year.

While trade considerations such as tariffs still weigh on export efforts to China and other markets, Gomez urged marketers to look ahead at ways to increase sales to Asia and Africa.