Avocado is in. It is impossible to imagine stores not carrying this fresh fruit; smoothies have been commonplace for several years, and smashed avocado on toast increasingly appears in breakfast bars. Not to mention guacamole. Yet, ten years ago, things were very different. Go back 30 years, and you genuinely step into prehistory regarding avocado. Yet, Syros first entered that sector in the early 1990s. Truly visionary.
Back then, the Belgian company imported the first container of deep-frozen guacamole from South America. "My father switched his food business from salmon to avocado. He was looking for a new challenge and saw opportunities in this fruit that was on the rise in the U.S.," begins Matthias Boels, who owns Syros along with his brother Bram. "I think he spent two years traveling around Europe selling the guacamole from that container. And he spent the next ten explaining to retailers and wholesalers how avocados differ from pears."
Innovative processed products
Syros has warehouses and production locations at two sites and directly imports and distributes deep frozen semi and fully-processed avocado products. Besides that, it also produces mixes like guacamole and spreads based on fresh avocados. "Making guacamole is challenging. You must know how to treat it. That's needed because avocados are the healthiest fruit, nutritional value-wise, in the entire Western world. As a leading European expert, we maintain premium quality and health. And that’s precisely where our biggest growth is; there's still tremendous potential," says marketing manager Miet Vanderyse.
"We can be truly creative. After all, we're distinctive on the market with these innovative processed products. Also, it's easy to play off these avocado products' numerous strengths. Many people love the flavor and texture; they're healthy, easy to use - think of the to-go segment - versatile, and sustainable," says Miet. Regarding sustainability, Matthias explains that they source some of their fresh avocados for processing from European retail and wholesale partners. "They send us their fruit that's too ripe, too big, or too small for the fresh market. The avocado market is quite large, and there are always some losses. We thus have no trouble getting raw materials," he says.
Private labels for retailers
According to Matthias, there are not that many processors in Europe. Most are in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain, where avocados are cultivated, too. "More than 60% of avocados enter the continent via Rotterdam. We're thus well-positioned. We crush and further process the fresh avocados into the final product at our Oostende facility."
Syros markets some of its products under private label at retailers. "That's our specialization. Clients can have a custom recipe that can be produced at the origin, too. We also have bulk packaging for specialty stores or food service under our Syros brand. The hospitality sector loves our smashed avocado. That has much to do with that product's consistent flavor quality and labor efficiency. Restaurant staff no longer have to worry about picking the right avocado and preparing the product," Miet explains.
Avocado prices sky-rocket in the run-up to Superbowl
Some of the semi or fully-processed products arrive deep frozen at Syros. The company always has ample stock and can, thus, offer buyers fixed annual prices. "Deep frozen products have advantages because a fresh avocado has a limited shelf life. An extensive supplier network, which has grown with the market over the years, allows us to switch smoothly and provides sufficient volumes. The purchase price sometimes fluctuates, depending on the season or region, but that was the case a decade ago, too. But, back then, there was a problem of 'no affordable volumes' available from Mexico in the run-up to the Superbowl; now we can tap multiple origins," Mathias says.
Syros gets most of its deep-frozen products from Latin America and Africa. "With consultants and cultivation technicians traveling all over the world, avocado quality almost everywhere is fast approaching that of Mexico. We don't import from Spain. That country doesn't have enough water; there's always a shortage. Then, sometimes, it's more sustainable to import from Latin America. That seems somewhat counterintuitive, but when calculating the actual environmental cost, transportation is often a small item."
Peel and pit make up half the avocado
This social aspect is not unimportant to Syros' corporate vision. They work only with SMETA-certified suppliers. Sustainability-wise, the downstream part of production - where the peel and pit go - is garnering more and more attention. "An avocado is 50% peel and pit. We try to give that a second life; to add value. That's good for both the environment and the company's bottom line. You can make oil or fodder from the pit and peel," Miet knows.
Most of their deep frozen products - semi or fully-processed - go to the food service, hospitality, and industry sectors. The frozen segment has the advantage of convenience and consistent quality. "Eateries can, thus, tailor their recipes to that. Fresh avocados that have been bobbing about on a ship for weeks sometimes have less consistent quality. We rotate our frozen products quickly, too; they don't sit in the freezer for a year. And there are certainly restaurants that can use pre-cut, thawed avocados. Think avocado slices in sushi bars. Fresh or frozen is often a consideration when a hospitality business positions itself," Mathias explains.
With an average annual avocado consumption of 1.16kg per person in Europe. Syros, initially focusing on Europe due to limited market opportunities, now dominates in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, where Taco Fridays contribute to high avocado consumption.