John Smits supplies buyers in Northern Europe with total range of Spanish organic fresh produce

Growth of Spanish organic area not as turbulent as expected

John Smits from the Netherlands has been active in Spanish horticulture and the fresh produce trade for twenty years. He started with a production project for organic vegetables on substrate, and in 2004 he started selling organic products in Northern Europe. “My suppliers are between Alicante and Huelva. I’m the link between Spanish cooperatives and my buyers, who are primarily located in the Netherlands.”

John Smits

John markets practically the entire range of organic fresh produce, which is unique. “From soft fruit to citrus and from mangoes and avocados to celeriac and iceberg lettuce,” John sums up. “To be interesting for my buyers I need a broad range. There are 300 other supplies who have organic tomatoes and cucumbers, so I can’t be distinctive in that regard. My biggest products right now are citrus – varying from oranges to lemons and grapefruit – and avocados. You don’t hear or read much about organic citrus, but I sell about 100 pallets of it per week.”

“I predicted the growth in the organic greenhouse vegetable area a few years ago. That’s why I started to focus on spreading the products. For example, cherry tomatoes can be bought anywhere, and organically they’re just as cheap as conventionally. But other products actually have a demand market. Spanish organic blueberries, for instance, are often expensive and difficult to acquire, and the same is true for mangoes and avocados. That’s why my turnover consists for 90% of exotics and citrus now. When my customers ask for a new product, I start looking for it.”

John works with eight organic cooperatives, which he connects to buyers. “I work on behalf of the cooperatives, but I do my own sales, I pass on orders to suppliers, and take care of transport and billing. One thing I am really distinctive in is respecting the customers of my customers. My customers know I won’t approach their customers behind their back. That’s why they often trust me to supply the products to their final customers in,for example, Italy, Austria or Switzerland. This makes them more competitive than having double transports and storing or cross-docking their products in their warehouse.”

Although there’s been much fuss about the turbulent growth of the Spanish organic area in the media in recent years, that image can be somewhat more nuanced according to John. “Many olive groves and grain fields are organically planted because people get subsidies when buying things like fertilisers. But this involves enormous surfaces, the product of which is often not even sold as organic. The market has definitely become more pressured in the fresh produce sector, but the figures mentioned do not tally with the reality. People are talking about an expansion of 1,600 hectares in Almeria, but I don’t think the total organic area is even that large.”

“Ten years ago, many growers switched to organic production, but many growers quickly transitioned back to conventional production as well, because the organic production turned out to be less profitable than expected. You can now see that nearly all of the cooperatives, which market hundreds of pallets of conventional trade, are starting with a few pallets of organic trade. Because of this, the completely organic companies are under more and more pressure. I personally have doubts sometimes about the correctness and certificates of the organic products of the companies that just do organic on the side. I check the trade and papers of my suppliers myself, so my customers can be guaranteed of 100 per cent organic product.”

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John Smits

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