“Things are tough in the fruit cultivation sector. Many apple and pear farmers are in crisis. We do not have to beat around the bush about this," says Gerard Poldervaart. He owns a shop called the Betuwse Fruitshop in the Netherlands and Fruitmedia. This publishing company's publications include the European Fruit Magazine and The Fruitteeltkrant.
"However, instead of complaining, fruit farmers should think about where there are opportunities. This requires awareness and rethinking. Cooperation between all the parties in the fruit sector is needed too."
Gerard Poldervaart (r) with his son Coen in front of the Betuwse Fruitshop.
Is it profitable to have a picking robot?
Before Gerard started his business, he was a fruit cultivation consultant for companies all over Europe. He did this for many years. He saw that things were being done differently in the Netherlands, compared to countries such as Germany or Italy.
In the Netherlands, the solution for the apple and pear growers' crisis is being sought in mainly reducing this sector's cost price. People are also looking into innovations in things like new varieties and mechanization. According to Gerard, this is, however, a dead-end street.
"Farmers are already very aware of their cost price. This price can barely be reduced further. New ideas such as new, managed varieties, spraying machines, robots that pick apples, and the use of drones are, in my opinion, of little value."
"How many club varieties have realistically ensured more income per hectare for the fruit grower? Is it ever profitable to have a picking robot? When you use it for only six weeks of the year, during harvesting season?" he asks.
The Betuwse Fruitshop is stocked full of delicacies made from fruit.
Better prices on the fresh market
Gerard sees more use for innovations after the cultivation phase. The sector must find products that increase fruit sales and consumption too. This will means lower quality fruit will disappear from the fresh market. In turn, this will benefit price formations on that market.
“After all, when prices for industry fruit are good, fruit growers or their sales partners tend to quickly sell average quality, unsorted fruit to the processing industry. But when the price for industry fruit is low, they will try to sell batches of average quality fruit on the fresh market. In this case, a good price for industry fruit will make this fresh market option obsolete," Gerard explains.
VOG products processes more than 350,000 tons of fruit into all sorts of products. Photo credit: OG products, FruitMedia.
That this reasoning holds true, can be seen in South Tyrol, a province in northern Italy. Gerard says, "There, years ago, the collaborating sales cooperatives set up the VOG products company. This company processes apples into all sorts of frozen, canned, or vacuum-packed products. The company's sales have increased enormously since it started. To such an extent that more industry apples are being processed than are available in the whole of South Tyrol."
Does an apple still fulfill modern-day demands for convenience? Or would parents instead give their kids an apple in a can to take to school? Photo credit: FruitMedia.
Gerard sees all kinds of possibilities for adding value to fruit. His shop, the Fruit Concept Store, is full of fruit delicacies. Included are fruit chocolate and candy, fruitseccos and wines, jams, apple chips, and special fruit syrups. “Look around carefully. There are countless possibilities besides delicacies."
"Think of artificial leather for bags, shoes, or clothes made from apple pulp. Think of apple cider, apple beer, applesecco, or high-quality apple juice as an alternative to the industrially produced bulk juices. Flavorants are used in these bulk juices to mimic the taste of apple," Poldervaart continues.
"Consumers want more and more convenience foods. We may think an apple or pear is convenient to eat. But is that true? Or would people rather buy their apple or pear freshly cut into pieces? Maybe moms and dads would prefer to give their children a can of apple juice along to school rather than an apple or pear?
"When I buy a fruit salad in the supermarket, it contains mostly pineapple, grapes, kiwis, or other exotic fruit. It rarely has any apple or pear. Is this not an opportunity for the fruit sector?" Gerard wants to know.
Or an apple snack in a bag? Photo credit: FruitMedia
Gerard sees that individual growers are, in most cases, too small to grab these opportunities on their own. "The fruit sector, as a whole, has to rethink how it can increase the sale of these products in a more structured manner. I see chances here for growers and organizations and interest groups. These groups include the Boerenbond and Studiekring Guvelingen in Belgium or the NFO and LTO in the Netherlands."
"They can take the lead and can act as the connection between the growers," he says. A nice first step can already be to, as a standard, serve pure pear and apple juice at breakfast at B&B’s and hotels. "Why is orange juice served as a standard?" Gerard wonders.
Jams, syrup, and other bread toppings made from fruit. In Belgium, for example, they make strawberry and raspberry syrup.
The fruit sector could do well to be prouder of their products. They should show this too. "At just about every fruit growers meeting, I see bottles of cola and orange juice on offer. At trade shows, stallholders offer cans of fizzy drinks and peanuts to visitors. Why no tasty fruit juice, fruit chocolate, or apple chips? Improving the fruit cultivation sector starts with oneself," concludes Gerard.
In Germany, they make fruitseccos from various varieties of fruits, and wine from, for example, apples or cherries.
These fruit delicacies include fruit chocolate which contains large pieces of fruit, as well as fruit candy.
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