Bolivian fruit export potential!

Ismael Luna Acevedo reports for El Dia:

IBL: first lyophilized plant of fruits

A striking company, specialized in the industrialization of national fruits, is exporting to European countries. Entrepreneurship pushes forward that urban population eat fruits with nutritional value.

2013-03-25 08.14.28 amThe consumption of fruit in the country is low, says an empirical observation. The truth is that there is no data pointing accurately what the annual per capita consumption of Bolivians with respect to fruits and vegetables are. Some argue that we do not reach 20 kg on annual average per person, taking into account the recommendations of the World Health Organization to indicate that each person should consume at least 146 kilograms a year. It is therefore low.

Faced with this confusing reality, over five years ago, the first processing plant for seven varieties of fruit, a freeze-drying Bolivian industry (IBL) is installed in the municipality of Warnes.

Under a new concept. Freeze drying is a process in which freezes the product and then enters a vacuum chamber to carry out separation of water by sublimation. In this way eliminates water from the solid state to the gaseous environment without passing through the liquid state. Experts say “A dehydration of the fruit in cold” that maintains the characteristics of the food.

The new company born from the initiative of the Bolivian businessman Ramiro Cuéllar, director President of the Cuellar Group, which maintains its main activities in production, storage and sales of grains and seeds, as well as livestock. The Group has investments in the United States and important teams from the country’s North, Europe and China. “Don Ramiro, in his trips to other countries, noted that the Bolivian fruit quality is superior to that of other countries and found therein a business opportunity,” says André Napravnick, technical manager of the IBL.

A venture. In that line, from its corporate constitution, according to Napravnick, it starts freeze drying of high quality food produced in Bolivia, mainly tropical fruits like banana, mango, pineapple which are organic, conventional (non-organic) fruits as strawberry, apple, peach, papaya among others. The production of the “superfoods”, foods that stand out by hand, in addition to the usual nutritional items of fruits, nutritional specialties.

For example, reports Napravnick, “today on our line there is asai (fruit with the highest content of antioxidants in nature), is camu camu (fruit with the highest content of vitamin C), noni (important source of amino acids), maca (important source of protein and hegar dilator for blood pressure control). Others include copoazu and yacon”.

Production volumes. IBL executives point out that the process of freeze-drying creates viability to the export of these products, it also creates a simple way of putting healthy food to the consumer hands in Bolivia, as BITs (banana, apple and pineapple) product line.

The production capacity of IBL is in 15-20 tons per month of freeze-dried product. “This process makes the fruit to maintain an average of 85% of the water (freeze dried fruits are delivered with low residual moisture to 2%, therefore we get 83% of the water)”, explains Napravnick.

Direct investment in the plant (building and equipment) made by IBL was at least $2.5 million. Investment in supplier development, product development, research and certifications was other 500 thousand dollars. Today IBL has certified organic, kosher and has certification UEBT (Union for Ethical BioTrade) “that ensures that we maintain ethical relationships with our suppliers and customers and make all our activities with respect to nature and biodiversity”.

95% of the production of IBL is destined for export, but from 2012 began selling products to the consumer with the Bits brand for the domestic market, in addition to providing raw material for companies in Bolivia. “We seek to achieve 20% of sale in Bolivia and 80% export” said production manager.

A new way. For executives, it is the only company in this field in Bolivia. There are lyophilizers in Brazil and Chile in South America (companies about the size of IBL or larger) and small plants in Peru, Colombia and Argentina. However, freeze drying is done in laboratory since 1920, in an industrial scale since 1950. It is born from the effort of producing food for the armed forces in the second world war. And the astronauts used freeze products from the ’50s until today.

Industrialization process of the fruit upon been harvested from agricultural fields of the country

Reception and selection. The freeze-drying process first begins with the collection of organic fruits, whose work involves appropriate handling according to the characteristics of each product.

Cut and chopped. Then the fruits, are these banana, apple, peach, pineapple, among others, are transported to the plant of freeze-drying, where after being selected and washed are chopped into slices.

Chamber. Once crushed, the process continues with the placed product in appropriate trays or containers to be transported to the Chambers of freeze-drying, where modern technology pulls water from the food.

Result. In this case, with the fruit of the pineapple, after a freeze drying process called “cold drying” of more than eight hours, the product comes out keeping the original nutritional values, smell and taste.

Packaging. It is the last step of the process, where they are ready for domestic consumption or export product goes in search of markets, where they are issued in small bags of 130 grams and exported in larger containers.

Point of view

Erick Rojas Balcázar, Food engineering professor

“The fruit market has great potential ‘”

The production of fruits in Bolivia has traditionally focused on introduced species, notably those of temperate and subtropical climate, which have been aimed at the supply of local and national markets.

The exports actually made only considered tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya, mango and, more so, the banana.

In Bolivia the fruit average per person consumption is approximately 20 kg a year, while the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 120 kg, to achieve a proper diet.

Indeed, the production of lots of different fruits that existed in Bolivia has disappeared in the last decade and to the present, with rare exceptions, markets are supplied with fruit of foreign origin or, in a few cases, native fruit which, moreover, face – to complete the tragic panorama – problems by smuggling, free trade, unfair competition and low prices. The fresh and industrialized market fruit is of great importance for Bolivia because they are products of great nutritional value and highly valued both for the internal and external markets that can be offered throughout the year.

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