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Yves D’Hauwers, Primalof:
“We’ve had a fairly good chicory year, but pricing remains difficult”
The De Smet family has been active as a wholesaler in the chicory sector for four generations. Their subsidiary Primalof is specialised in the production and sales of fresh and cooked chicory. Owner Yves D’Hauwers is satisfied with the progress made last year.
Chicory, and outdoor chicory in particular, is considered a typically Flemish vegetable. The chicory roots can literally be found in Brussels. Apparently, a local farmer was the first to cover the chicory roots with a layer of earth, after which white leaves sprouted. Like in neighbouring countries the Netherlands and France, Eurostat’s statistics show a decline of the area. The Belgian chicory area dropped in ten years time from 3,600 hectares in 2006 to 2,100 hectares in 2016. The Netherlands, France and Belgium are the most important chicory producers in the world. The chicory sector has shown a declining trend for years. Sales prices are far below cost price, and consumers eat less and less chicory. Moreover, there’s increasing competition from important sales countries such as Germany.
A large part of Belgian chicory remains in Belgium. Other important destinations are France and Germany. Belgian chicory is also becoming more and more popular in the US. In Flanders, about 300 chicory producers are active. One of those is Yves D’Hauwers of Primalof. This company is specialised in the production and sales of fresh and cooked chicory. Yves says he’s very satisfied with the past chicory year. “The past year was fairly good for us, particularly regarding sales. However, pricing is difficult every year.” Chicory is losing ground, but is still in the top five of vegetables eaten most often. On average, the Belgians eat three kilograms per person per year, which is considerably more than the 300 grammes consumed in Germany per person per year.
Chicory is a double production. The roots are produced first, and the heads, or the actual vegetable, later. The chicory pens are bought by Primalof from growers who grow chicory roots for them per contract. Although chicory is produced year-round, consumption is largest during the winter moths. “The vegetable is particularly popular during the holidays. It’s always exciting to be able to supply everything the customers ask for,” he says. Annually, Primalof produces about 3,500,000 kilograms of chicory, and they mostly supply to the F1-channel on the domestic market. All chicory is packed. The majority in flow-pack, and the remainder in bags of one kilogram and punnets. “We try to sell our own product as much as possible. Only when we have shortages do we buy extra product from Belgian auctions.”
Convenience and being distinctive
Primalof was one of the first to supply cooked chicory in Belgium. They decided to introduce this product in order to be distinctive from other suppliers of fresh chicory. Yves: “With the vacuum-cooked chicory, we add value to the product, and we offer convenience to the buyers. The cooked chicory is prepared naturally, without adding salt, preservatives or flavouring. Besides, the cooked product has a shelf life of three weeks, and a lovely yellow colour after preparation.” Production takes place in a separate production location at Primalof. Although volume is currently not growing, the owner feels positive about the future of cooked chicory. “The product is doing well, but not exponentially. It’s not an obvious market, and growth goes very gradually. We’ve consciously chosen this, because it’s a product that’s very labour-intensive, as well as being quite expensive to produce.”
Publication date: 2/14/2018
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