Jan Willem Tolhoek:

“Raspberries are exclusive, but attainable”

Raspberries, delicate summer fruit that’s on the shelves year-round. However, a world of challenges is behind every punnet of the reddish pink fruit. Although the market is growing, there’s still plenty of room for continued development of the market. Availability and promotion play a key part in this. Jan Willen Tolhoek from Veiling Zaltbommel – ‘the raspberry auction of the Netherlands’ – talks about the challenges and opportunities of the summer fruit, with a clear role for Kwanza, the variety that has offered an answer for the most important challenges for years.

Much has been planted particularly in the south of Europe in recent years. Outdoor production is possible there. In the north, the raspberry production can mostly be found in greenhouses, or it’s protected. “The general trend is that the number of growers is decreasing, but the production area is increasing,” Jan Willem explains. “In the Netherlands, we’re seeing a clear shift towards protected production to harvest early and late in the season.” The covered production is practically a prerequisite to meet requirements of GlobalGAP and Milieukeur. The Netherlands still has limited outdoor production, but the harvest is in months in which all countries in Northern Europe are in production, and there’s not much room for export.

Local tastier?
With that spreading from early to late in the season, growers try to avoid the peaks on the market and spread their production. However, by doing so they risk competition from, for instance, Spain and Portugal. “This spring, they had a lot of bad weather in Southern Europe, which was positive for the Dutch growers,” Jan Willem says. Although illuminated production is an option for raspberries, Dutch growers haven’t fully dedicated themselves to this yet. “That’s a different market, and you then work with a considerably higher cost price. Raspberries will continue to be, like other soft fruit, an impulse purchase; weather and price are decisive in sales,” Jan Willem exemplifies the consideration that has to be made.

The first early greenhouse raspberries from illuminated production are harvested in February. These are followed by non-illuminated greenhouse production and covered production. Supply from the Netherlands is practically year-round, supplemented by Southern European import, and import from countries including Mexico, the raspberries are available twelve months of the year. That’s an advantage for Dutch growers, according to Jan Willem. “When a product is available year-round, there’s room on the supermarket shelves year-round.” He has noticed a general trend in supermarkets to pay more attention to seasons and countries of origin. “There’s more attention for regional product and the ecological footprint of the fruit,” he says. As a result, doubts about Mexican raspberries arise more and more. “If we can get the fruit from around the corner, why would we go so far away for it?” This is a question asked on the market more and more, not just by Jan Willem.

Market with potential
“Consumers don’t appreciate the raspberry enough. Not everyone buys raspberries. It’s a luxury product,” he continues. The sales figures from promotions show there’s a large market for soft fruit. When a supermarket has promotions with raspberries, with price often playing an important role, sales figures multiply. Compared to other European countries, the consumption of raspberries and other soft fruit is low. “That means the market can be stretched further, and that there’s still much room to grow in the Netherlands,” Jan Willem says.

Supermarkets also play a part in this. In recent years, soft fruit has been offered cooled in supermarkets. To guarantee shelf life of the soft fruit, cooled storage is necessary.

Following blueberries
To increase consumption, multiple steps will have to be taken. Jan Willem mentions the examples of avocados, and within the same category, blueberries. Availability and promotion are the pillars for success of this fruit. Both points also have to be tackled for raspberries. “When you ask children to mention five types of fruit, most won’t mention raspberries. But they are the consumers of the future,” he explains the challenge of increasing the fruit’s familiarity.

Fragile product
“I like to compare raspberries to luxury cars, an Audi for example, that’s a product with a good image, yet attainable for many consumers,” he continues. Because of an average sales price in supermarkets of 2.50 euro for 125 grammes, raspberries are more expensive than, for instance, apples, but the price can be compared to those of blueberries. The growing market for blueberries is also thanks to their wide availability. Blueberries have been planted on a large scale globally. “Because so much product is available, costs are lowered, and the product becomes more attainable for more consumers. Besides, there’s plenty of room for promotions.”

The most important thing, however, is that great quality has to be supplied and that quality has to be guaranteed throughout the supply chain. Especially with a fragile product like raspberries that can be challenging. “A raspberry should only be touched once: during the harvest,” Jan Willem explains. After that, the fruit can only be touched when it’s about to be consumed. The process offers room for optimisation.

Kwanza helps improve image
A punnet of raspberries contains about 20 fruits, which amounts to an average price of around 12/13 cents per raspberry. “You’re more likely to eat a few at once, so raspberries aren’t cheap,” Jan Willem explains. “If the flavour isn’t right, or there’s one of poorer quality, consumer will think twice next time they’re in a supermarket.”

The Kwanza variety, for which Veiling Zaltbommel is the primary trading party in the Netherlands, was presented as an answer to question from the market in 2011. These answers are reflected in the characteristics of the raspberry: a large fruit, good shelf life, firm enough, a good flavour and a colour that isn’t too dark. “Raspberries had a bit of an image problem, and Kwanza helped improve that image,” Jan Willem says. Whether the variety has a long shelf life? Jan Willem doesn’t rule out a successor to Kwanza could arrive on the market. “We’re always looking for improvements. We can always do better.”

More information:
Veiling Zaltbommel
Jan Willem Tolhoek

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