The moment Dutch supermarkets switch to imported vegetables from Spain isn’t set in stone. It depends on the quality of the products. Spanish growers, who look back at a difficult start of the year, try to make up for their losses. Mario Luzzolino of Verdi Import talks about Spanish outdoor vegetables.
Early in October the first Spanish broccoli arrived at Verdi Import in Barendrecht. At the start of the season, it’s mostly Scandinavia, and the Netherlands to a lesser extent, that buys broccoli. “We have seen that if shelf life of Dutch broccoli starts decreasing, Dutch trade switches,” Mario says. In the final weeks of October and the first of November, the Dutch market switches to Spanish import.
Switch dependent on quality
“The Dutch production of iceberg lettuce and broccoli lasts quite long. In recent weeks, we’ve had much rain, and that causes quality of Dutch vegetables to become poorer,” Mario says. Traditionally, there’s quite an overlap between the Dutch and Spanish season. Bell pepper is a good example of that. The first Spanish bell peppers are available from August, but the market is still filled with Dutch product then.
“The same can be seen for iceberg lettuce. There already was iceberg lettuce, but now quality of the Dutch product is decreasing, so customers start switching to Spanish product,” Mario says in week 43. The price difference becomes a factor then. In that week, prices for Dutch lettuce were at 3,50 to 4 euro, but Spanish growers have to receive 5.50 euro for the product to be profitable.
Anonymous products less interesting
“It’s difficult to predict what the season will do,” he continues. “Much can happen that has a major impact.” A regular season has stable supply. Extreme weather circumstances can cause considerable highs and lows. “The start of this year was exceptional, and there’s not much you can do about it as a grower,” Mario says. “This season you can see some growers have slightly higher week or seasonal prices compared to last year, to make up for the loss of last season. In the end, it’s naturally up to the market and the consumer whether that loss is actually made up for.”
“We’re happy to have a brand like Cricket for our broccoli. They always supply quality, and people return for that. This year we could continue supplying, despite the extreme weather.” According to the trader, brands are more important and anonymous products are losing ground on the market. “I think it always helps to have a label, no matter the product. So many suppliers are on the market with various kinds of quality, brands and packaging. Once customers have a brand that sells, you have to make sure you can always supply it to them. Anonymous products are becoming less and less interesting.”
Water shortage not insurmountable
The area remained stable, although some shifts can be seen. Due to major water problems in Murcia, the production is shifting to other regions in which growers plant outdoor vegetables as well. “Water is a major problem,” Mario continues. Each year, the problems arise throughout the entire agricultural sector. “Growers can buy water, but it’s costly, and you’d have to rely on customers paying you back. It’s a difficult situation, but not an insurmountable one.”
After the hot summer, which caused delays in citrus, for instance, the weather late October was good for the production of vegetables. “We have a fair production that will probably become a bit negative later in the season. A plant produces a certain amount of kilos, spread over the season. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but it’s expected that there will be periods with shortages.”
Spain losing ground?
Although the coming season doesn’t have special circumstances (yet) for broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce and blanched celery, there’s always the risk that if the season does turn bad, importers start looking for other suppliers. Mario has also seen that trend on the market. “If it’s another season with total malaise, companies could start focusing on Italian vegetables,” he says. “But the start of the year was bad in Italy as well.” However, the trend exists that companies are looking at other countries of origin. “If Southern Europe continues to have problems in coming years, new countries might be looked for.” Romanian plums, Polish bell peppers and Slovakian tomatoes are some examples mentioned by Mario.
For Spanish growers that trend is already happening. “Looking at Spanish tomatoes, the area decreased by 25 per cent because they couldn’t compete with Moroccan tomatoes,” Mario concludes. The Moroccan tomatoes are cheaper, and the quote for the export to the EU is increased every year. Because of that, Spain loses market share, and growers have to look for other products to grow.
Mario is also keeping his eyes peeled. “It’s part of the job to be alert for developments on the market.” He also comments that customers should want the products in their assortments. In Scandinavia and Germany, some customers don’t want Turkish pomegranates, but only Spanish ones.