The first tomatoes from the Canary Islands arrived at Fortuna Frutos in week 42. After that, more vegetables from the Spanish group of islands arrive at the import company in Barendrecht, the Netherlands, every week. “Quality is good,” says Gert-Jan Slobbe about the start of the season. “We’ll have to see how it’ll continue. Much depends on the weather and situation in Spain and Morocco.”
The area within Fortuna Frutos remains stable. Round tomatoes play the leading part for vegetables from the Canary Islands. Besides, Fortuna Frutos imports plum tomatoes and cucumbers. “The tomatoes are grown on Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura,” Gert-Jan says. In total, he expects to market four million packages this year, the largest part, by far, being round tomatoes. Cucumbers and plum tomatoes combined have a share of about ten per cent.
“In the past, the tomatoes were shipped by means of conventional reefers, but this year we’ve used containers for the first time,” Gert-Jan continues. “We have two departures per week.” The containers arrive in Rotterdam and Antwerp weekly. “Sporadically we’ll have some arrivals per lorry, but those costs are much higher. I always say we only use lorries in case of emergency.”
The round tomatoes grown on the group of islands have a good position on the market in particular. The market for specialities and vine tomatoes is much more difficult. “We’ve tried specialities in the past two years, but it’s difficult to compete with production regions with lower costs,” Gert-Jan explains. “We don’t have specialities this year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have them next year either.”
Investing to compete
The growers on the islands have to invest to remain competitive. “We’re obligated to supply a flavourful tomato with a good shelf life. There’s some flexibility in that, but it also means growers have to modernise to keep the yield per square metre at a good level.” Growers who dare to invest in production techniques that increase production per square metre, and who have the opportunity to do so, have it easier in the long term than growers who don’t make these investments. “That’s the same in all production areas,” Gert-Jan says. “I’m optimistic about the tomato production on the Canary Islands, and it could be that there will be more growers in future. That depends on the situation and whether they have the option of investing.”
Compared to the Spanish mainland and North Africa, the weather is more even on the Canary Islands. The islands have less extreme weather. “Sometimes it’s a bit colder, but temperatures don’t suddenly drop during the nights, as can happen on the Spanish mainland. That’s why we have less changeable temperatures compared to tomatoes from Spain, and why the plants do better.”
Dutch competition for specialities
Fortuna Frutos has a strong basis in the retail channel, but food processing shows growth figures. “It’s important retail and catering can’t just offer a tomato, but that they also have a wider selection of our product assortment, so we also have a good product between October and May.” Besides supply from the Canary Islands, the company also imports from North Africa and the Spanish mainland, and the emphasis is on greenhouse vegetables: bell pepper, courgette, cucumber, aubergine, vine tomato, round tomato, cherry tomato and mini-plum tomato of the Angelle variety.
The speciality tomatoes have much more to contend with, including Dutch production. Specialities and vine tomatoes are also grown in Dutch greenhouses during the winter months. “Dutch growers have vine tomatoes and specialities in illuminated production, but no round tomatoes,” Gert-Jan explains. At the start and end of the season there’s an overlap with Dutch production, but in the end, the customer decides when the switch is made. The season from the Canary Islands lasts until May. “We still have a good product then, so we still have customers who carry tomatoes from the Canaries, but I also understand when Dutch retailers switch to Dutch product.”
Bananas, melons and blueberries from the Canaries
Traditionally, growers focus on tomatoes and cucumbers. Other greenhouse vegetables are much less appealing. In the 1980s and 90s bell peppers were still grown on the islands, for example. “There was a longer variety then, Lamuyo. Nowadays, the shorter bell peppers are more popular (California Wonder), these are more difficult to grow on the islands.”
The Canary Islands have potential for export with other products. Cautious experiments with melons, mangoes and blueberries are conducted, for instance. “Bananas are also a major export product, although 90 per cent is sent to the Spanish mainland,” Gert-Jan concludes. He sees opportunities for this banana, which is much sweeter than the Latin American one. For that, it’s important retailers want to promote the product, for instance, because consumers have to be well-informed. Due to the higher sugar content, the banana from the Canaries gets dark brown spots quicker. “That’s only because of the sugar content, it’s not an overripe banana when opened.”
Three growers supplying tomatoes and cucumbers to Fortuna Frutos are also active in the production of bananas. “Most of the sales are now going to Spain, but I don’t rule out bringing the bananas to Western Europe. However, care is needed to inform consumers about the bananas from the Canary Islands.”