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Robinson Fresh dealing with tough pineapple season

Gustavo Lora has served as pineapple category manager, sourcing, for Robinson Fresh for four years, responsible for the company’s supply strategy and execution from the different farming operations in Costa Rica and Mexico and making sure the supply is aligned to its customers’ needs for both quantity and quality.

“Success in any commodity requires deep insight into the dynamic and complex industry to allow for being quick on your feet and a short reaction time,” he said. “Long-term planning skills, forecasting capability, strong cold chain management and understanding of external factors such as weather and ocean carrier dynamics are all needed to achieve a sustainable program in produce. Solid, long-term partnerships are also indispensable to succeed in the produce industry.”

So far in 2017, Robinson Fresh has experienced a really tight supply out of Costa Rica, which moves the needle regarding the U.S. pineapple market. Lora noted that the company was anticipating a stronger supply than what it has seen so far this year, although the demand remains fairly robust.

IMG 3340Tropical produce on display at Robinson Fresh’s trade show booth.“The supply has not followed traditional trends. To put this in perspective, Costa Rica supplies 84 percent of the U.S. pineapple market,” he said. “According to USDA, pineapple supply out of Costa Rica is down 40 percent in 2017 as compared to 2016. This is happening in a year that was predicted to have very good supply out of Costa Rica. Weather could have played an important role in how the supply curve is behaving, but there is no clear-cut reason for the decrease in supply.”

Looking to the summer, he expects some turbulent times as growers have reported a few natural flowering events that will spike yields in June with a subsequent drop for July and August. To compound this situation, Mexico will be moving into their summer gap, meaning pines will definitely be tight for the summer.

Robinson Fresh works with the two strongest countries of origin for pineapple, and Lora noted its ability to satisfy customer demand from both of these countries (Mexico and Costa Rica) became especially virtuous last year when the pineapple industry went through a major scare.

“For the first time in recorded history, a Category 3 hurricane made landfall in the Costa Rican territory crossing directly over the main pineapple growing regions of the country,” he said. “Miraculously, the hurricane made its way through with almost no damage to the crops. This event reminds us of the importance of a two-country supply strategy. We see Mexico as the next big player behind Costa Rica when it comes to pineapples with 7 percent of the USDA reported tonnage in 2016 and over 20 percent increase in tonnage annually for the last four years.”

While the company takes advantage of the year-round supply Costa Rica can provide, it also takes the logistic advantage of utilizing Mexico because of its proximity to the U.S. and the two-to-three day supply capacity to cross the border.

“We have standardized our best practices in both countries, related to quality monitoring and food-safety standards while utilizing our logistic expertise to excel in supply assurance,” Lora said. “This strategy gives us the capacity to offer a well-rounded program to customers who want to work with either region, Mexico or Costa Rica.”

One of the trends that Lora has noticed with pineapples of late is the increase on value-added products.

“Customers are looking for the ease of eating. Pineapple is not the easiest food to prepare. Because of this hurdle, pre-cut pineapple is now trending because it provides customers with the delicious taste of pineapple with all the convenience,” he said.

“Cut pineapple has become so popular that more than half of the total sales dollars of pineapple in the U.S. are generated from fresh cut options. Sales in fresh, whole pineapples have only grown at a 6 percent rate, while value-added sales have grown at a 20 percent rate.”