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FALLOUT FROM E.U. BAN : U.K. mango importer urges ‘no more knee-jerk reactions’ to pest threats

May 15th, 2014

England-based exotic fruit importer Ripe Now has cut short its trials of Indian mangoes because of the controversial ban stopping the fruit from coming into the EU.  


For the last two years the company was trialing Indian varieties and had planned to supply British supermarket Asda with Indian fruit this year, until the ban took effect on May 1.

Speaking with, Ripe Now co-founder Lewey Hook, explained how his business sources exotic fruit from West Africa to be used in packaged mixed fruit salad in the U.K., how his Indian trial came to an abrupt end and his thoughts on hot water treatment.

“We are mango importers, although we don’t work with Indian mangoes that much as most of our fruit is sea freighted in to be used in fresh fruit salads,”
Hook said.

“However, we had some sea freighting trials with Indian mango last year and the year before and we were going to do it again this year but obviously that has been stopped. Most of that produce was going into Asda, mainly into their ethnic stores around the country.

He said the issue has been a bit of a “show stopper” from the grower’s point of view, as it now needed to look for other markets as the trial was dead.

“The retailers were looking to build their sales for Ramadan and Eid where they sell a lot of Indian and Pakistani fruit over that time. So the ban has put a bit of the kibosh on that as well,”
Hook added.

Instead, Ripe Now is focusing on working with West African growers, specifically in the Ivory Coast, and is developing a deal in Mali while working with producers in Senegal and the Dominican Republic in order to supply mangoes year-round.

“We’ve got a full calendar of smooth varieties and we work 12 months of the year. We go out to source fruit directly from the farms in West Africa and this has to be synchronized because we have to have exactly the right amount of fruit every day of the year.

“We’re doing about 10-12, 40 foot containers a week which probably amounts to half a million mangoes a week. Kent is the top variety followed by Keitt. Those are the varieties that are slightly better eating quality compared to others and they are a totally different kettle of fish compared with the Asian varieties like the Alphonso for instance.

“All those varieties are very difficult to sea freight because they are thin-skinned and have a high sugar content.”

Concerns the Indian ban could lead to similar prohibitions elsewhere

Ripe Now dispatches its mangoes to a processor where it is cut and mixed with other fruit to make packaged fruit salads, which are available via the majority of the U.K.’s major supermarkets.

The thought of the Indian mango ban branching out to other countries is a concern for the U.K. market.

“On the shelves I can say that 50% of all cut mangoes are ours and all retailers, apart from Waitrose stock our mangoes.

“Perhaps my business is not directly affected now but obviously I’m very aware that this knee-jerk reaction could prompt more reactions. I’m aware that the Commission could do the same in Pakistan for instance and that then they could say ‘all mangoes coming into Europe’ may have to be treated with hot water treatment or otherwise.”

Another side to hot water treatment

While many people in the industry believe hot water dipping treatment or vapor treatment, where mangoes are left in high temperatures for approximately an hour to prevent the contamination of fruit flies, is the way forward in the Indian mango ban debate, Hook has other thoughts.

“It’s basically stewing the fruit which means if there are any fruit fly larvae in there, they will die in the hot water treatment and that guarantees that if you have any fruit fly, it’s not alive when the fruit comes in. That’s what the American market demands to protect its industry,”
he said.

“Treatment does affect the taste of the fruit; if you would stew an apple you would get a slightly different flavor and with hot water treatment, you are never getting a true ripened flavor of the mango fruit.

“Another side of this is the fact that hot water treatment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of infrastructure that growers and importers have to invest in which stops smaller farms and smaller exports from directly selling to the market.”

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