Italian Saturn peaches analysed as a success story

The convention organised by the Catalonia Department of Agriculture and IRTA titled "The future of peach cultivation in Spain and Catalonia" took place on May 5th, 2017.

The organisers chose an Italian success story as an example, that of Saturn peaches, a mark registered by the Eleuteri company from Civitanova Marche and promoted by OP Armonia. 

Marco Eleuteri, son of Giorgio Eleuteri, the first person to plant this variety, illustrated how Saturn peaches managed to conquer the highest end of the market.

The seminar was organised by the Directorate General of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Catalonia to analyse the current sweet fruit situation after many difficult years in which producers barely covered production costs. What can be done to change this?

The question was discussed from various angles. The debate concerning commercialisation was particularly lively and saw the intervention of two foreign guests - the French Raphael Martinez, general director of the Occitania Fruit and Pulse Federation, and the Italian Marco Eleuteri, sales manager of Op Armonia.

Left to right: Josep Presseguer, General Manager of Fruits de Ponent,
Josep Lluis Trilla, Sales Director for Actel, Marco Eleuteri, Raphael Martinez, General Manager of the Occitania Fruit and Pulse Federation.

The interventions were preceded by an introduction by Manel Simon who, analysing various data, stressed how except for last year, when quotations were acceptable and stable throughout the campaign, prices did not cover production costs in the past (2011 and 2014 were the worst years).

Despite these difficulties, exports increased by 300% in 15 years unlike Italy which, over the same period, saw a 40% drop. Insufficient product promotion and low domestic consumption remain issues than need solving.

Raphael Martinez explained how peach and nectarine quantities produced in France have halved over the past 10 years. Those who continue to grow these fruits mainly sell the on the domestic market. France has developed an actual "food patriotism", which the association supports with various initiatives in cooperation with various domestic distributors and with good results.

Marco Eleuteri then presented the only case history of the seminar, i.e. that of Saturn peaches, which raised a lot of interest because Catalonia cultivates around 5,000 hectares of doughnut peaches, making it the leading producer country in the world.

Doughnut peaches are a sore point for Catalonian growers, as remuneration more than halved in only 5/6 years (from €1 of 2011/12 to the 35/40 eurocents of the past 2 years). After all, with such a sudden growth of the cultivated areas (the region did not cultivate this variety at all 15 years ago) for a product that is relatively new, the risk of a crisis was inevitably quite high.

Cultivated areas stopped expanding a few years ago and companies are being restructured also with the help of IRTA, probably the most advanced doughnut peach research centre in the world.

Even though the results of this process probably won't be visible in the short term, they will definitely have positive effects in the medium-long term, especially concerning varietal innovation and quality improvement, increase in productivity per hectare, improvement of cultivation technique and storage technologies.

If, to this, we add a state-of-the-art commercialisation through modern marketing and communication tools, then probably results for growers will also improve.

Italian Saturn peaches were taken as an example of a success story.

Marco Eleuteri and Prof. Ignasi Iglesias from IRTA - centre - with Meritxell Serret and Genral Director for Agriculture Carmelo Modol.

Marco Eleuteri referred: "First of all, I need to thank the Department of Agriculture of Catalonia for the high consideration shown for Op Armonia and Saturn peaches. I am honoured to take part in this convention as a 'success story', it's as if Giacomo Leopardi recognised us as 'Great Poets'. The hospitality and gratitude shown by Consellera Meritxell Serrat, head of the Department of Agriculture, Livestock Breeding and Fisheries of Catalonia, were truly extraordinary. It is maybe the first time I felt a citizen of Europe." 

Manel Simon, General Director of Afrucat, and Marco Eleuteri.

First of all, Eleuteri presented Op Armonia. The company owns 70 of the 600 hectares of Saturn peaches all over Italy - 40 in the Marche and 30 in Campania. 

New hectares are expected in 2017 - 10 in the Marche and 10 in Calabria - and 30 new hectares are planned for 2018 (20 in the Marche and 10 in Campania).

Eleuteri then retraced the main steps of the history of Saturn peaches since 2010. From prestigious collaborations with academic organisations (Accademia dei Georgofili with prof. Frega and Accademia Italiana della Cucina) and Michelin-stared chefs (Vissani, Cedroni, Uliassi...) to the initiatives developed with distribution chains (competitions, flyers, show cooking), the publication of a blog (managed by professional journalist Francesco Annibali), the bronze sculpture made by artist Rocchetti and the painting by Giovanni Alfano, the attendance of Expo Milano with the only Michelin-starred chef in the Macerata province Michele Biagiola, cooperation with local artisans for products such as aquavit, beer and jams down to the ongoing cooperation with perfumer Hilde Soliani.

The most prestigious Italian food journalists also showed a lot of interest in these peaches: Andrea Grignaffini, manager of the Espresso restaurant guide, dedicated a 4-page feature to this "Miraculous peach" when, usually, the space is dedicated to great wines. Bimonthly magazine"Eventi Culturali" also dedicated an 8-page feature as well as the cover to Saturn peaches. 

"But we don't just focus on communication, as we are aware that we need to produce a high-quality product first, that's why we invest a lot on R&D. We are the owners of Italian multiplication rights for UFO 4, the parent variety of all new-generation European doughnut peaches. We obtained Community protection for the late Strike variety and started the leading genetic improvement programme in Italy in cooperation with CREA Roma. We are aware that, if we want to be leaders in this segment, we need to never stop and continue improving. Each achievement must be considered a starting point."

Josep Lluis Trilla from Actel stressed the need to aggregate more to meet the demands of increasingly large and demanding distributors. The leading groups in Lerida often have the same interests and should therefore cooperate more. It's the only way to be more competitive on the foreign markets.

Josep Presseguer then highlighted the unsuitability of the recent changes to the regulation concerning "market withdrawals during a crisis". While it's true that the price of the products withdrawn has increased, it is also true that quantities have decreased.

He then went on to criticise the no longer acceptable practice of "commission sales", especially since the fresh produce sector is the only one where this happens. "Our costs are certain and increasing, why should sales not be as certain?"

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