At the beginning of November VLAM went with four export companies and four auction houses to Budapest. The Hungarian capital was the stage of a fact finding mission, in which the delegation looked for a better understanding of the local fruit and vegetable branch and interesting trading contacts. With a surface area of 93,000 km2 Hungary is three times the size of Belgium. Since 1985 Hungary has seen a decreasing number of births, which has caused the population to decrease by five percent from 10.7 to about 10 million inhabitants.
After a difficult period the most fruitful period for Hungary since entering the EU started in 2004. With the increased standard of living the Hungarians have shown more interest recently in food products from abroad. The crisis and the low rate of exchange of the local currency (Hungarian Forint) are unfavourable and do not simplify import into Hungary.
From the first day of the mission it became clear very quickly that the Hungarian fruit and vegetable sector is not inferior to that of Belgium. Hungary is with 994,954 tons of vegetables and 1,229,869 tons of fruit (2010 figures), responsible for 1.4% of the total fruit and vegetable production in the EU and is with that at the same level as Belgium, Serbia, U.K. and Belarus. The top five vegetables mainly grown are green maize (302,757 tons in 2010), processing tomatoes (134,274 tons), peppers and chilli peppers (122,445 tons) and cabbage (76,572 tons). Fruit is mainly processing apples (496,916 tons) and grapes (294,771 tons) and are the main products.
The most important suppliers to Hungary of fresh vegetables were Germany (23,816 tons), The Netherlands (12,061 tons), Austria (9,572 tons) and Spain (9,109 tons). The vegetable import from Belgium has till now been limited and last year amounted to 357 tons, mainly onions, shallots and cauliflower. Hungary import fresh fruit mainly from Romania (31,483 tons), Serbia (30,051 tons), Germany (25,521 tons), Austria (23,215 tons) and Belgium (20,011 tons). Hungarian imports from Belgium are mainly pears.
From early market to hypermarket
With the assistance of the local representatives of Flanders Investments and Trade VLAM worked out a made to measure plan. In the early hours of the first day the Belgian delegation attended an extensive guided tour on the 'Nagybani', the biggest early market in Hungary, supplying Budapest and the surrounding area of fresh fruit and vegetables. About 60% of the imported fruit and vegetables in Hungary go to the consumer via Nagybani, where more than 180 wholesalers are active. The large quantities of direct deliveries by producers from all over Hungary, who sold their goods in the open air directly from their lorries was striking. After the guided tour of the early market the most important players in the Hungarian retail branch were invited to meet the Belgian fruit and vegetable sector. The export companies present had the opportunity to establish contacts with the responsible people from 8 players in the fruit and vegetable sector, amongst which Tesco, Auchan and CBA, which resulted in a few promising deals.
For the representatives of the auction houses there was at the same time a visit to
Rona-Ker-Tész planned, a producer's cooperative with an area 2,216 m2, where amongst others carrots, tomatoes, leeks, peppers and green peas are grown.
The fact finding trip was finalised on the second day with a visit to the fruit and vegetable departments of Tesco and Auchan, the number one and number six in the Hungarian ranking list of top FMCG-retailers. Here is was seen that hypermarkets are becoming more important in Hungary. More than two thirds of the value of food is realised by shops with an area of more than 400 m2. The shares of the smaller food chains and of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl are also increasing.
The participants of the contact-days in Budapest look back positively on this immersion in the Hungarian fruit and vegetable sector. They all agree that a contact-day is the ideal way to get to know a new market in a short time. There are definitely extra opportunities seen for Belgium to supply outside of the Hungarian season and in the segment of specialities and niche products. It is hoped that this initiative is the first step to a better cooperation with the Hungarians.