In the Netherlands and neighbouring countries, the harvest results for outdoor vegetables — particularly compared to the previous season — are fairly high across the line. It will therefore be challenging to sell all product groups properly. However, according to Mtoto Keijzer, owner of Bioport, organic growers can be distinctive with quality and storage this years.
Mtoto’s company works with a permanent group of organic growers from the Netherlands and Belgium. Bioport works directly from grower to customer, and the products are packed according to specifications of the customer, and they also completely take care of transport. They provide services to de-burden both buyer and grower as much as possible. In the field of sales, Bioport is mostly active for wholesalers, industrial processors, vegetable pack companies and packers for supermarkets within the EU. Each sector has its own specific requirements, which can differ per region.
Export starts more gradually
The 2017/18 harvest results for outdoor vegetables can be called high across the line in the Netherlands, not counting some exceptions. Mtoto mentions the sizes of many products are larger compared to last season. “The yields per hectare were good this year. However, because this is also the case elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the North, it will definitely be challenging to sell all product groups properly. Fortunately, most of the organic growers are well-equipped to store their products for longer periods. This will definitely be a year in which growers can be distinctive in quality, in order to work with their products as long as possible.”
Because of this, the season is clearly different from last season. Export started much earlier then, and prices started higher. “That is exactly what makes the fresh produce sector so interesting and dynamic,” the trader says. “It’s always a combination of (harvest) results and price. This relates specifically to the surrounding countries — particularly for the Netherlands. The Netherlands is traditionally focused on the export of fresh produce products, and this is also true for organic vegetables.”
Various sales options
The sales options, for that matter, are very varied per product and per moment, Mtoto says. Two years ago, cauliflower became a hype in a very short time, so that demand was much higher than production in a number of countries. “That coincided with a high production in the Netherlands, which was used for export. Last year, this wasn’t the case as much, because local organic growers anticipated this with the expansion of their cauliflower area.”
Because circumstances were difficult due to the brief snowfall in December, more cauliflowers were exported this year. “Dutch growers managed to keep quality of their product acceptable for a while longer, in order to extend sales somewhat. Cauliflower is one of those typical product groups with which you can make quite a difference with a combination of programmed volume and loose sales,” he says. “With this season in mind, we hope to also realise this in the coming production season.”
Yacón hype in Belgium
Mtoto thinks the organic yacón is an interesting and unique new vegetable. He expects quite a few developments for this crop in coming years. In the Netherlands, organic company Biologische Tuinderij De Waog in Neer, Limburg, has devoted itself in recent years to realise a good yacón production and accompanying sales. “They did that very well, and they also managed to realise continuity. More and more buyers are discovering yacón in order to offer something completely new to their customers. The product has been noticed. For example, in Belgium, yacón was in the news remarkably often last December.”
Tricky season for root crops
Every year, a product such as parsnip has an expansion in its area. Sales are following a similar pace. The vegetable appears to be losing its label of ‘forgotten’ because of this. “It is a tricky season in the field of quality, though, and this appears to be the case for all types of root crops. For the ‘regular’ orange organic carrot we’ve seen the same, and for root parsley results are also plain bad this year. Specialists say this is caused by the combination of a dry period in early summer and a wet second half of the year. Due to drought, not everything came up, and the moist circumstances just before and during the harvest made crops susceptible to diseases.”
Pumpkin an exciting product
The production of pumpkin also deserves special mention. “Last year it was a ‘scarce’ product, but we now have very good results, so it’s an exciting product regarding sales realisation. Demand is now slowly starting. Normally, that moment when demand starts is more than a month earlier,” Mtoto says during the second week of January. “There was a shortage of sowing seed this year. Because of this, more organic growers planted the Amoro variety, which has higher yields but does worse in storage and is appreciated less by consumers.” Mtoto would therefore not be surprised if growers stop using this variety en masse in coming seasons.
Remarkable growth within industry
The large yields of many organic products and subsequent price pressure may, however, prove to be challenging for the fresh market, but these developments once again offer options to the processing industry. “It appears as if the industry is declining in percentages twice as quickly as the fresh market. This is partially because companies ate into their own stores last season. Due to lower availability and higher prices of organic product, they have also not stockpiled as much. They can now supplement that nicely, but at the same time they can also see that the consumption of organic soups, juices, cut fresh produce and frozen vegetables is increasing on the market.”
Favourable starting position
Despite changing seasons, market shifts and a considerable area expansion in the most important sales regions, the Dutch organic outdoor vegetable sector still has a favourable starting position, the trader concludes. “Regarding returns, quality and storage, the Dutch organic growers have built themselves a nice lead. In the past 15 years, much has been invested in high-quality and innovative storage and they continue to be distinctive with their products. Demeter productions are growing in area, growers introduce special products and anticipate specific wishes of buyers even more regarding packaging, sizing and continuity.”