Due to the warm weather in the Netherlands, the start of the Spanish greenhouse vegetable season was difficult. By now, temperatures have dropped and the season is over. The market for Spanish vegetables is therefore gathering momentum. Stephane Rion and Gert-Jan Slobbe from Fortuna Frutos talk about the developments for Spanish greenhouse vegetables.
“We have had a difficult start. Until November, there was a steady supply of Dutch product,” says Rion. Dutch supermarkets prefer Dutch greenhouse vegetables. “For example, the quality of Dutch cucumbers was good for a long period, so Dutch supermarkets continued buying Dutch product.”
Supermarkets eventually decide when to switch, based on the quality of the products. That moment also decides the actual start of the Spanish season.
The Spanish vegetables imported by the company from Barendrecht, the Netherlands, are mostly meant for Dutch retail, but the company also exports some volumes to Scandinavia and Eastern and Central Europe. About 80 per cent of the produce is supplied to European retailers. The first vegetables from the Spanish mainland are available at the end of September. The Canary Islands follow mid-October.
Stephane Rion and Gert-Jan Slobbe.
“It is difficult for a greenhouse cultivator to just switch to another product,” Rion explains. “It does not happen often, and in general, it is done by people who need money.” They might switch to a product that can be harvested quicker, for example, meaning payments will also be made quicker. “Most Spanish cultivators do not just switch.”
Originally, Fortuna Frutos specialised in the import of tomatoes from the Canaries. That assortment has been expanded significantly in recent years. Nowadays, supply from the Canary Islands consists of round tomatoes, miniature plum tomatoes and cucumbers. “The rest of the assortment is imported from the Mediterranean.” Rion sums up the assortment of Fortuna Frutos as ‘ratatouille vegetables.’
Less fickle weather
The small group of islands off the coast of Africa has advantages compared to the Spanish mainland. For example, weather conditions have been stabler in recent years. “The weather is structurally less fickle in temperature than Southern Spain,” says Slobbe. “Plants do better because of that, and the quality of the products is stabler as well. Spanish tomatoes are also good, but the weather can be fickle during the second half of the season.”
Thanks to those stabler cultivation circumstances, the products from the Canaries have made a name for themselves, within the customer circles of Fortuna Frutos as well. Yet the sector is facing potential dangers. In the last ten years, prices have hardly fluctuated. Transport and labour costs, however, have increased. That has become a challenge for cultivators. “It is now more focused on sufficient production per square metre in modern greenhouses, and on optimum circumstances to survive,” says Slobbe. “We also see cultivators not surviving.”
That trend is not seen among cultivators who have joined Fortuna Frutos. “We are still growing against the tide,” Slobbe continues. “This year, we expect to trade one million additional packages compared with last year. We have plenty of opportunities to market that additional volume. We want to hold on to that growth in coming years.” That growth is the result of a double trend. On the one hand, more cultivators want to market their products through Fortuna Frutas. On the other hand, cultivators are investing in new techniques. The truly professional cultivators are the ones left standing. “Our producers are completely dependent on cultivation. They do not have any other jobs on the side.” One of the producers is located in a village with 8,000 inhabitants and an area of 140 hectares. “You can imagine how important that company is for employment in that village. It almost becomes a moral obligation to stay in business.”
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