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Britvic hit by Ecuador passion fruit shortage

By Chris Mercer , 26-Jun-2006

Severe shortages of passion fruit supplies from Ecuador threaten to disrupt food and drink firms, as Britvic says it will pull its J2O Orange and Passionfruit drink from shop shelves in Britain this summer.

A spokesperson for Britvic told Beveragedaily.com that the group would not be able to meet demand for its Orange and Passionfruit J2O juice after some point in July.

Ecuador, the world's largest supplier of yellow passion fruit for juices, has struggled to meet demand from the food and drink firms around the globe after a spate of unusually bad weather.

Britvic said it had "increased production of other varieties of J2O. We have spoken to our customers and we can provide additional products to consumers to meet demand".

The news is a blow to Britvic's planned launch of J2O in PET bottles, however. The roll-out was set to begin with the Orange & Passionfruit and Apple & Mango varieties at the end of this month.

The passion fruit shortage also threatens to hit J2O sales during the crucial summer months, with Orange & Passionfruit one of the two most popular varieties.

It is thought several other food and drink firms in the UK and elsewhere have also encountered problems sourcing passion fruit recently, mainly because of crop problems Ecuador.

"Producers in Ecuador are between four to six weeks behind on contract deliveries and there are no stocks at all in Europe," said a report by juicemarket.co.uk this month.

Britvic said it hoped to have Orange & Passionfruit J2O back on shelves in Britain within a couple of months.

Prices have soared to among the highest on record, after first insects and then bad weather have ravaged the passion fruit vines in Ecuador over the last year.

Production dropped 15 per cent in 2005 to 157.7m tonnes, according to the Ecuadorian Passion Fruit Processor's Association (EPPA). At the same time, demand for passion fruit concentrate has risen sharply in 2006 because of its ability to balance flavour in fruit juice blends.

The Juice Market report said June prices in Ecuador were between $0.35 and $0.40 per kg of passion fruit, while the price for concentrate deliveries in the second half of 2006 is expected to drop slightly to $4,500 per tonne.

A market report by specialist ingredients supplier Fuerst Day Lawson (FDL) said earlier this year said supplies of passion fruit were scarce across the whole of South America.

"The current market shortage of passion fruit concentrate, irrespective of quality, will take some time to correct, even if we see good volumes of quality product from Ecuador and Colombia from April onwards."

Recent passion vine plantings in Colombia, Africa and even the Far East may relieve shortages in the longer term, however.

FDL said that as world demand for passion fruit rises, more farmers have become interested in it due to the relatively short payback time - the vines take between six and nine months from planting to harvest.

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