Colombia’s Bounty Continues to Find Opportunity in Europe

Colombia’s long history of trade with European markets provides a strong base for increasing future exports.

The European Union, a major market for Colombian agricultural products, continues to represent significant opportunity for the increasing bounty of produce from this diverse source-country. In 2016, 45 percent of Colombian exports of agricultural products to the world went to the European Union according to ProColombia in Bogota. “Colombian exports have continued to grow in importance for the European market, posting a compound annual growth of 5.5 percent between 2006 and 2016,” says Andres Castellanos, manager of agriculture and food at ProColombia in Bogota (Colombia’s export promotion entity). “We predict this trend to continue.”

In 2016, Colombia’s ag exports to Europe totaled US$1.5 billion and 1.8 million tons, according to ProColombia statistics. Of this, the top three principal Colombian ag exports to Europe are bananas (at 1.5 million tons), coffee (at 227,130 tons) and fresh fruits (at 40,429 tons).

Castellanos attributes part of the reason for Colombia’s export growth to the growth of the export production sector within Colombia. “The Colombian export business’ portfolio of agricultural products and exporters has grown in recent years,” he says. “In 2006, about 140 Colombian companies exported agricultural products to the European Union. In 2016, the number of exporting companies amounted to 230.”

Colombian exporters, such as dried fruit exporter FRUANDES in Ibagué, Colombia, find the European market quite open to their products. “Demand of organic and fair-trade products is increasing significantly,” says Jennifer González, FRUANDES sales and communications manager. “European consumers are conscious of the impact their purchases have throughout the value chain. Also, they want to make sure the products they consume are healthy and clean. This is an excellent opportunity for Colombian companies such as FRUANDES to grow and to bring more high quality organic and fair-trade products to those consumers.”

Significant Growth

Colombia has witnessed significant growth in exports of fresh fruit to Europe over the past five years with the top three exports posting over 20 percent growth in value. Within the fresh fruit category, Colombian exports to Europe include avocados, gulupa (purple passion fruit), golden berry (cape gooseberry/physalis), pineapples, limes, granadilla, tomate de arbol (tree tomato), mangos and mangosteen, pitahaya (dragon fruit) and passion fruit.

Colombian Non-Traditional Fruit Exports to Europe (Value)

Items USD 2012 USD 2013 USD 2014 USD 2015 USD 2016 Part. % 2016
Avocado (fresh & dried) 174 1.119.109 3.526.008 10.191.644 34.576.373 37,5%
Gulupa/Passion Fruit (fresh) 11.743.369 15.265.645 17.124.246 20.930.590 24.655.710 26,8%
Uchuva / Goldenberry 27.901.169 25.956.575 28.523.795 23.167.646 20.708.875 22,5%
Pineapples (fresh & dried) 211.844 51.92 1.204.522 1.666.378 4.748.876 5,2%
Limes (fresh & dried) 145.021 328.839 629.866 1.513.467 1.930.642 2,1%
Granadilla (fresh) 1.756.634 1.635.807 1.919.831 1.908.730 1.828.225 2,0%
Tomate de árbol / Tree tomato (fresh) 1.064.354 990.809 906.866 738.655 717.734 0,8%
Mango y mangosteen (fresh & dried) 68.611 194.395 420.197 678.863 680.274 0,7%
Pitahaya / Dragon Fruit (fresh) 536.123 621.353 634.415 632.617 675.315 0,7%
Passion Fruit/Maracuya (fresh) 374.252 387.492 402.807 443.162 473.78 0,5%
Source: DANE, Colombia

According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Colombia ranks third among Latin American countries with the highest number of hectares cultivated with fruit trees, at 10.9 percent. “We are also part of the main fruit producers in the region and one of the greatest potentials for expansion of the agricultural area,” says Castellanos.

Of particular notability is the growth in avocado exports, increasing over US$24.4 million in 2016 compared to 2015. “This fruit changed from being the fourth largest fruit exported to the European Union in 2013 to become the main fruit exported to this destination in 2016,” says Castellanos. “Even more striking is how in 2012 our avocado exports were so low and by 2016 we had reached US$35million. We anticipate even greater increases in the future.”

CorpoHass, the Colombian Hass avocado grower and exporter association, reports Hass avocado production in Colombia has increased from 23,000 tons in 2010 to over 58,000 tons in 2015. “In 2015, there were 13,530 hectares planted in Hass and we forecast even greater expansion by the end of 2017,” says Jorge Enrique Restrepo, executive director. “Top European export destinations include The Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Panama, Spain and Portugal.”

Unique Products

Given Colombia’s climate, diverse thermal floors and nutrient rich lands, Castellanos relates Colombia’s offering of unique fruits and vegetables throughout the year is growing. “We export a lot of exotics to Europe,” he says. “Historically, we have been the principal South American supplier of tropicals and exotics to Europe. Colombia continues to develop business in specialty items such as purple passion fruit, granadilla, tomate de arbol, and goldenberry.”

Castellanos also reports the expectation of significant growth in mainstream tropicals including mango, pineapple and papaya as well as other sectors such as dried fruit.

FRUANDES currently exports to a few European countries. “Our customers are our partners in their specific market region and we work hand in hand to grow together,” says González. “Our opportunity with them is to increase current volumes and add more of our products in their portfolio. In countries we don’t yet export to, we see a great opportunity to explore the market and find the partner best aligned with our business.”

Novacampo in Funza, Colombia, has been exporting physalis (Golden berry) to Europe for 20 years. “When we started exporting, physalis was primarily used as a decoration for cocktails but since then we’ve worked hard to really promote and we now have it positioned as a snacking product,” says Sandra Riano, sales manager. “We’ve seen good growth in the market, especially since we’ve made known all the health and nutrition attributes of the product.”

Riano reports currently exporting four containers a week to Europe and anticipates more growth potential. “We still have a lot of opportunity,” she says. “Europe is a large market and even though we have gained a lot of of ground, there is still lots of room to expand.”

Novacampo is also looking to export limes to Europe by the end of 2017. “Europe is a good market for limes and we can offer a good product,” says Riano. “Colombian limes have a rich green color coveted by buyers and are very high in juice content. These attributes make Colombian limes more desirable over other source countries. We anticipate exports of two containers weekly.”