Portugal’s Rocha pear producers eye Chinese market

Just one Portuguese fruit, Pera Rocha (the Rocha pear), was included among some 200 products that are covered by the agreement between China and the European Union (EU) on the protection of geographical indications (GI).

The GI label applies to products with specific quality, reputation or other characteristics resulting from their geographical origin. The China-EU GI agreement entered into force on March 1, 2021, and the Portuguese producers of Pera Rocha now hope to be able to access and conquer the Chinese market.

Domingos dos Santos, president of the National Association of Pera Rocha Producers (ANP), told Xinhua that the GI agreement is considered another step towards the granting of “health authorization to be able to export Pera Rocha from Portugal to China.”

“It is important to preserve the productive brands and designations of origin and geographical indications, because these labels are granted to high-quality products, produced in a specific way. These are always important, so that we are not trivializing production,” he said.

Pera Rocha was recognized in 2003 as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), an EU seal that certifies the quality and tradition of food and agricultural products, guaranteeing their origin and certified production techniques.

Grown on about 10,000 hectares in more than 20 counties in western Portugal, the fruit has physical, chemical and sensory characteristics directly influenced by the climate, relief, air humidity, type of soil and proximity to the sea of the geographical area of origin.
“Pera Rocha is a genuine Portuguese product, it was a natural mutation that occurred by 1830. It spontaneously appeared on the property of a small-scale farmer, and then multiplied and expanded,” dos Santos said.

Pera Rocha is an organoleptic fruit. It is highly resistant to storage time and transport — characteristics greatly valued by resellers.

“Eventually, all producers were able to produce this fruit with quality, in a homogeneous way, with no major changes and losses in production within the region of origin,” explained the ANP president.

“It is only produced and manages to maintain its characteristics in this region of western Portugal, due to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and this microclimate of protection of our Sintra mountain range, which facilitates production,” he added.

The ANP is responsible for managing the pear’s PDO and ensuring that production is maintained in the traditional way, respecting the parameters defined by an exclusive controlling body that checks and evaluates compliance with all the applicable rules.

The ANP was present at FHC Food & Hotel China, a trade fair for international exporters held in China, in November 2019, with the aim of winning over Chinese consumers.

“The idea was to promote the pear in this market and make initial commercial contacts to advance work for when the opening of the market is authorized,” dos Santos said.

The ANP is developing an external promotion project with an investment of around 430,000 euros (526,000 U.S. dollars). However, dos Santos told Xinhua that the pandemic has delayed many of Pera Rocha’s expansion plans, which included a mission to China by the Portuguese agriculture minister.

According to the ANP chief, around 50 percent of production is destined for export, and the main markets are the UK, Brazil, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Germany, France, Ireland and Spain.

“We export approximately 80,000 tonnes of pears, with a total value of around 100 million euros,” he said.

According to dos Santos, ANP’s first expansion plan ended in 2019, and now it is preparing a new initiative that should start in 2022 with the Chinese market as its primary target. (1 euro = 1.22 U.S. dollars)