Over the past 25 years, Quicornac has evolved from being a small scale passion fruit producer to a thriving, high capacity multinational shipping passion fruit and mango NFC and concentrate to over 32 countries around the world. What’s next for passion fruit? Harry Frei, Executive at Quicornac and Ricardo Merino, Commercial Manager talks to FJF to tell us more about this unique flavored fruit.
Passion for the fruit
Passion fruit has two things that stand out from the rest: Its name – passion and its taste. Adding a little passion to your life mixed with a flavour that is both tropical and intense, are the two things that stand out the most, say the company. A taste so unique, no other fruit provides the same level of experience. It has to be one the tastiest, most experience-rich flavour there is. It’s the perfume of fruits. There are also added nutritional benefits of the fruit besides its taste.
Passion fruit has great added benefits with a healthful nutritional profile. It contains high levels of Vitamin A, which is important for skin, vision, and the immune system, and vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant. Passion fruit is rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that help to mop up harmful free radicals in the body.
Antioxidants play a vital role in keeping the body systems healthy. Scientists know that antioxidants improve blood flow, specifically to the brain and nervous system. Passion fruit has also a low glycemic index (GI) value. This means that it does not cause a steep increase in blood sugar after consuming it, making it a good option for people with diabetes. Passion fruit is loaded with heart-healthy potassium and is also low in sodium. Passion fruit is rich in magnesium, an important mineral that scientists have linked with decreased stress and anxiety. There is so much to love about this fruit.
Our growers make the difference
“Like in any fruit, quality comes from the fields, says Harry Frei. “We have a team of agronomists whose sole purpose is to teach farmers how to produce the right quality. This means from selecting the best seed or seedlings, to harvesting in a safe and dedicated manner. While passion fruit is a robust fruit once picked, it needs to arrive to our processing locations as quickly as possible to preserve the best aroma and juice properties.”
The most significant markets for passion fruit products, are currently the EU, USA, and some parts of Asia. “We see a solid urgency of demand in Asia as locals begin familiarizing with the fruit.”Ricardo Merino reports.
“It is difficult to pinpoint exact market size, but we estimate a total export market between 22.000 to 25.000 MT of 50 brix equivalent. This includes converted NFC which should account to around a third of the total market. The market size refers to known exports from main producing areas such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Vietnam. There is also a strong local consumption which accounts to juice products that stays in the country of origin, for example in Brazil, Colombia, China, Peru and Vietnam that does not show in the export statistics.”
“We estimate the demand has been rising over the last 20 years at a rate of 2-3 % per annum. Biggest swings up or down have been due to supply/demand and crop cycles, which has been traditionally variable over the last 10 years or so however, as new producing regions like Peru have begun to produce in larger quantities, and now recently Vietnam.
“Since then, the price has stabilized in a much narrower trading range and has helped the demand pick up. We believe that the trading range will be even narrower in the coming years as there are multiple origins that can produce passion fruit.” Comments Ricardo Merino.
“All the work has been in promoting farmers and helping them produce more, “says Harry Frei. “We all know that adding capacity or setting up a new processing site is relatively easy, but having control of the fruit supply is key.
“90% of our work evolves around our farmers network; constantly promoting the crop, helping them with new farming techniques and provide them with better seed. The fresh local consumption has also helped as farmers net higher prices from the local market.
“They now average much better returns than in the past, in fact most farmers today take better care of their plantations and are motivated to continue producing more in areas where local consumption is solid. This is the case of Peru where we estimate that more than 30% of the fruit stays local. In Ecuador, most of the fruit goes to factories so producers traditionally get a lower average return.
“But there are other conditions that favour Ecuadorean producers such as shorter distances, excellent soil conditions, crops all year, plenty of water for irrigation and good demand from producing factories all year long. Ecuador still produces the best tasting passion fruit and more reliable supply than any other region in our opinion.”
A great source of pride
Harry Frei comments “We continually adjust our production lines to produce the best of juice, at the lowest possible impact. Many of the equipment we own given our vast experience have been tailored made and designed in our shops to treat the delicate passionfruit. We have, since 1989, leading not just the production and the export of passion fruit, but also lead the promotion of passion fruit juice worldwide.
“We are proud to see many of the biggest juice companies using passion fruit in their product range today. And not just juice. There are plenty of other food applications where you can find passion fruit in. This process was not easy, took us years, traveling and lots of investment to continue expanding both our farmers and customer base. Even to this day.”
What makes us unique
“We are focused on one fruit: Passion fruit. While we also have mango because many of our farmers also produce this fruit nearby, passion fruit is what we are known and proud for, says Ricardo Merino. “While obviously the market for passion fruit is much smaller that say, mango, we pride ourselves to be the leader in this niche, and as we say, we prefer to be the mouse head than the lion’s tail.”
What does the future hold
Harry Frei comments “Besides the traditional markets, launching new products every year with passion fruit, we see Asia as a new potential market. Their local production of passion fruit is helping fuel local demand and also, they are also starting to like the taste for the fruit a lot. It is not uncommon now to see street vendors selling a refreshing passion fruit juice alongside local dishes in many parts of Cambodia, China, Laos, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“The USA is also a big market to keep an eye on, as more Latino influence boost the consumption of passion fruit. It is key however that the fresh fruit demand also grows (fruit imported from other countries), so that the fruit becomes more of a staple rather than an exotic garnish or occasional treat.”
Keeping customers happy
“We need to make sure we produce on time and deliver our goods to our customers as promised. While certainly we work with our existing customer base providing them with timely information about crop cycles and pricing, we also look for each country main juice producing companies and work hand in hand, first with their R&D department, comments Ricardo Merino
“Since 1989, we have been focusing on sustainability”, comments Harry Frei. “Every day we support our Ecuadorian and Peruvian farmers providing them with technical support and the promise of buying their crop. Our technicians give them access to qualified advice and drive them to be more efficient at their fields.
“Since 2015 we have carried out SMETA audits in both of our factories, focusing our sustainable strategy on ethical trade, responsible sourcing, health, security and environmental compliance. And since 2020, we have started our sustainability program on farms. Our aim is to achieve 10% of our passionfruit production under FSA Bronze level by 2021. This sustainability assessment contributes to farmers’ economic viability as well as environmental and social compliance. Every year, we raise the bar.”
Challenges of the Covid-19 year
“We have always focused on the human pillar and during this pandemic our commitment was no different,“ comments Harry Frei. “Since the beginning, we provided protective personal equipment and sanitization materials to our people. We have also implemented safety procedures for everyone attending to our process facilities. As for our fruit suppliers, we have maintained our early-payment policy; giving them stability to continue in business. Additionally, we have contributed with donations to our local communities to help them cover basic needs.
“The pandemic has affected our supply chain in many ways. While the Ecuadorian and the Peruvian governments have restricted circulation, and created multiple mobility requirements across many sectors, we have come out strong by following local laws and guidelines, working alongside with our fruit suppliers and transportation. To this date, more than 95% of our fruit supply chain has returned to pre-covid times.
“We have learned a lot. No matter how important is how we conduct business, it’s all boils down to people. Luckily, technology has been helpful in bridging this gap. Imagine if we would have just a facsimile like in the old days. Today, we can say, we are more than ever closer to our farmers and customers. Technology and pandemic have definitely changed our working practices in several aspects. This allowed us to be more efficient with our time and resources,” Ricardo Merino concludes.
Almost 30 years of growth fuelled with quality products, product innovations, and investment in new technologies has positioned Quicornac as a leader in the juice raw material processing industry. Founded in 1989, the company is a privately held company headquartered in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and employing around 500 people in Ecuador and Peru.