“Right now there is very little rambutan in the market since Vietnam is the main supplier this time of year and they have been on Lunar New Year holidays since Feb 15,” says Paul Armstrong of Los Angeles, Ca.-based RHA Group. “But we have started getting in shipments this week and getting back to normal.”
While Vietnam is the current source of rambutan, a spikyish red fruit that’s similar to a lychee, in May additional supplies will come from Guatemala and Mexico. “As we go through the summer, we start getting product from Costa Rica and Honduras,” says Armstrong. “There can be a sprinkling of Hawaiian rambutan as well sometimes in the fall. In addition, usually some production from Central America goes to the end of the year and some years may end in late November, other years close to Christmas.”
Demand meanwhile, notes Armstrong, is largely from Asian buyers. “One of the biggest challenges is to get people to try the fruit. It is a bit hard for people to approach due to its exotic look–however, the vast majority of people love the fruit once they get past the initial reluctance to try it. Slowly but surely non-Asian sectors seem to be purchasing rambutan,” says Armstrong. “This is also helped by pricing that has trended downwards in the past five years.” Pricing for rambutan tends to rise from November to May when supplies are more limited and costs are higher on the fruit.
As with other commodities such as apples and grapes, work on new hybrids of rambutan is being done. “There are new hybrids replacing the older varieties,” says Armstrong. “Our farms all have recent high-quality hybrids now producing and very soon we will be phasing out all the older varieties. This will also attract new consumers and grow the demand.”