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Suncheon Sweet Persimmon Appeals to the Tastes of Overseas Consumers with Its Sweetness and Crispiness

Sweet persimmons are generally harvested in Korea between September and October and exported overseas from November to the January of the next year. Korean sweet persimmons are renowned for their sweetness (above 14 brix) and crispiness. They are produced mainly in Jinhae, Changwon, and Jinju of South Gyeongsang Province and Suncheon of South Jeolla Province. Last year, Korea exported a total of approximately 6,800 tons of sweet persimmon to over twenty markets, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

Eleven new kinds of sweet persimmons, including one that can be eaten unpeeled, have recently been developed to appeal to various preferences of foreign consumers. Exports are expected to begin in the near future.

Korean sweet persimmons are gaining recognition abroad for their sweetness, crispiness, and thorough quality control. Despite their relatively short history in overseas markets, they are able to compete with sweet persimmons from more established exporters: China, Israel, and New Zealand. Korean persimmons are exported to about 20 countries including Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. They are cultivated mainly in Changwon and Jinju of South Gyeongsang Province and Suncheon of South Jeolla Province.

Suncheon sweet persimmons are renowned in Korea for their superior quality which stems from the propitious cultivation conditions—a large daily temperature range and ample amount of sunshine in addition to eco-friendly growing techniques. Suncheon started exporting sweet persimmons in the late 2000s and its products receive favorable reviews from foreign consumers who appreciate their quality and taste.

Suncheon Farmers Pioneer Overseas Markets
Sweet persimmons have been cultivated in Suncheon since the early twentieth century. Currently, there are about 950 farms (a total of 330 ha of farmland) producing 4,200 tons of sweet persimmons. A variety called “Buyu” accounts for 80% of the harvest. It is characterized by succulence, crispiness, and—thanks to the large daily temperature range—a very high sugar content. At 15 to 16 Brix, it is sweeter than apple, pear, or peach.

Suncheon persimmons are generally harvested between late October and November and exported soon thereafter. The exports rapidly increased with the establishment of SPEF (Suncheon Sweet Persimmon Export Farmers Association), an association of Suncheon farmers exporting sweet persimmons, in 2013. The enterprise was started by Hwang Tae-gu, the current president of SPEF, who has over 30 years of experience in sweet persimmon cultivation. In four years, the membership of the association has increased 3.5 times, from ten farms to thirty-five.

Hwang said, “SPEF was established for the purpose of exporting high-quality Suncheon sweet persimmons to foreign countries through the joint effort of farmers enthusiastic about exports. At present, the export volume is not high, but we expect it to rise as we standardize the quality of the fruit and secure a stable supply for export.”

Members Agree to Export Over 25% of the Harvest to Ensure Stable Supply
SPEF exported about 150 tons of sweet persimmons last year. Most of the fruit were shipped to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and other Southeast Asian countries, and smaller amounts were exported to Taiwan, Canada, and the US. According to Hwang, each member of SPEF should export more than 25% of the harvest regardless of how plentiful the crop is that year. This enables the association to calculate the export volume in advance and ensure stable supply of Suncheon sweet persimmons to overseas markets. He added, “Stable supply is our strong point.”

Sweet persimmons for export are classified by size, from small (3S) to large (L), because different sizes appeal to different types of consumers. According to Hwang, in Southeast Asia, lower-priced, smaller-sized persimmons are popular in open markets among consumers in the low and medium income brackets, whereas higher-income consumers usually purchase larger persimmons in high-end supermarkets and department stores. Hwang said, "We share essential information, such as fruit consumption trends and prices in importing countries, among member farmers before exporting the fruit. We even visit the countries to conduct market surveys and make other efforts to improve the competitiveness of Suncheon sweet persimmons."

Thorough Quality Control of Sweet Persimmons for Export
While SPEF focuses on the production and stable supply of sweet persimmons, SCUJ (Suncheon Combination Union Joint Enterprise Co., Ltd.) is responsible for quality control and distribution of the fruit. The organization provides exporting farmers with quality control manuals and offers various kinds of support in quality management. It also encourages the farmers to apply eco-friendly cultivation methods, control agrochemical residues, and obtain the GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. Above all, its biggest strength is in APC (Agricultural Products Processing Center) whose automated sorting line can sort sweet persimmons based on the sugar content, weight, and color. The Center also houses a low-temperature storage which can keep fresh up to 3,000 tons of the fruit for a long period of time. In short, APC has made an important contribution to raising the competitive edge of Suncheon sweet persimmons.

An Ambition to Make Suncheon Sweet Persimmon a Representative Korean Fruit in Foreign Markets
Exports of sweet persimmons from Suncheon are expected to grow in the future. SPEF hopes to expand the number of participating farms to 50 and export over 200 tons of sweet persimmons per year. It also plans to promote other types of crispy and sweet Korean persimmons in addition to Buyu. Hwang emphasizes, "We will put even more effort into quality control so that the Suncheon sweet persimmon represents the best of the Korean fruit abroad."

*Suncheon Sweet Persimmon Export Farmers Association (SPEF)
 Suncheon Combination Union Joint Enterprise Co., Ltd. (SCUJ)
Tel:+82-10-3627-6023 (President, Hwang Tae-gu)
    +82-61-752-0400 (Chief Manager, Yun Jae-hun)
Email:ylazenca@nonghyup.com

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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