Mexico has a long way to go to catch up with Costa Rica in terms of pineapple production, but logistics are helping Mexico attain some production growth, marketers say.
"Although Costa Rica continues to be the gold standard for fresh gold pineapple, marketers are searching for secondary options," said Mike Anderson, vice president of international procurement with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Kingston Marketing Associates LLC.
Other countries in Central and South America are increasing production and looking to capture market share, Anderson said.
"Kingston Fresh enjoys wonderful relationships with growers in Panama and Ecuador where we pack product on a regular basis."added
The U.S. sources the vast majority of its fresh pineapple imports from Costa Rica, with 1.11 million tons imported last season, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers.
Total U.S. fresh pineapple imports for 2015 were 1.13 million tons, according to numbers from the U.S. Economic Research Service, and 1.08 million tons through November last year.
"For the last 18 months, we have seen increased demand in the domestic markets of Costa Rica," Anderson said.
The intensified demand is largely due to increases in the industrial sectors, which use pineapple to produce juices, dehydrated products and individually quick frozen pineapple chunks, Anderson said.
"Buyers for those facilities are aggressively competing for supply and are paying record prices to growers. This has enabled growers to maintain prices for fresh export grade product even when demand drops in the North American and European markets," Anderson said.
Mexico was the next-largest pineapple supplier to the U.S. after Costa Rica, with more than 102,290 tons imported last season, according to USDA numbers.
"Mexico is taking a leap to supply," said Gustavo Lora, category manager of pineapples with Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Mexico already claims 7% to 8% of the pineapple market and is growing annually at 17% in total supply, as compared to Costa Rica's growth rate of 3%, Lora said.
Colombia's pineapple production has been growing at a "slower-than-expected" pace, said Gustavo Lora, category manager of pineapples with Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Logistics can be problematic in Colombia, Lora said.
"There are still challenges with supply chain: ports are not in convenient locations, the distance is much longer and much more expensive, which all make it not nearly as competitive as Costa Rica," he said.
"Internal land routes are an issue there, too. Also, Costa Rica is light years ahead when it comes to both the technology in packinghouses and the yields per hectare they are capable of producing."
Colombia's pineapple production growth rate is well behind Mexico's, Lora noted.
He noted that Mexico does have a 2-3 month gap during the year, but Costa Rica covers that gap.
"This is why Robinson Fresh has a dual-country strategy and supplies Tropicana pineapples from both countries," Lora said.
Costa Rica remains a global giant in pineapple production, said Robert Schueller, spokesman with Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets under the Melissa's label, which focuses on specialty pineapple varieties.
Fueling the growth is competitiveness in the marketplace, Schueller said.
"Costa Rica took over Hawaii's crop, which couldn't be competitive and whatnot," he said.
Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co. is "always looking at new growing areas" to maintain steady supplies, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications.
Dole ships its Tropical Gold Pineapples from Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica and grows its Dole Royal Hawaiian Pineapple in Hawaii, Goldfield said.
"While Dole does not currently grow pineapples in Colombia at this time, in recent years we have expanded our operations and productivity in other areas of Latin America with the purchase of additional conventional and organic pineapple farms in this region," he said.