The Spanish mandarin supply started up very slowly this year. This is due to the lack of cold nights in that country. However, the renewed sorting and packing plant at V. Ros in Les Alqeries is running at full speed.
"We knew an alternate bearing year was coming. We anticipated this well. We bought in a lot of mandarins from the south of the country," says Lionel Beltran. He started this citrus business in Valencia along with his father, Juan Pedro, and brother, Tierry.
Lionel and Juan Pedro Beltran with Adriaan Breeuwsma.
Fifteen years ago, the Beltrans still lived in Brussels, Belgium. They sold citrus at the import center there. They then took over the Valencian Ros citrus sorting and packaging station. They have since developed into a real leaf mandarin specialist.
"In the first years, we went to markets in Rungis, Perpignan, and Barcelona. We took the leaf mandarins along. People thought we were crazy. What with the leaves still on the mandarins. But we still have clients we met during those first visits," Lionel reflects.
V. Ros also supplies its clients with other kinds of oranges and leafless mandarins. The leaf mandarins are, however, undoubtedly their most important product. "This distinguishes us from those who have a few leaf mandarins. They currently have very little or no product. At the moment, everyone is contacting us to find out if we can supply them."
"That is why a year such as this one is good for separating the wheat from the chaff. We are fully specialized in this product. We will always be able to serve our clients," says Lionel. About 20-25% of the business' citrus comes from own cultivation. The rest was bought from growers all over Spain. V. Ros has often been working with these farmers for many years.
Belgium is traditionally this company's biggest market. They sell their citrus under, among others, the Cibel label to the Belgian company, Central Fruit. However, Ros now also exports to other countries like Canada. They also market to Northern and Western Europe and the Middle East.
This shipper has been growing quickly in the Netherlands in the last five years too. For example, the Dutch company, Postuma AGF, is the exclusive Ros' citrus wholesaler. This company's leaf mandarins can also be seen in various supermarkets in that country already too. This growth makes V. Ros a market leader in the Dutch market.
"A few years ago, there were very few leaf mandarins to be found in Dutch supermarkets," says Adriaan Breeuwsma. Adriaan has had a long career in the Dutch and Spanish fruit and vegetable trading sector. He is now responsible for Ros sales in the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
"Supermarkets increasingly realize they can upgrade their assortment. They can do so by adding leaf mandarins. Mandarins in a net will continue to sell. But, leaf mandarins, when attractively packaged, can give a store's fruit and vegetable department a real boost. Not just because of how they look, but also because of how they taste."
"With leaf mandarins, we are trying to reintroduce consumers to mandarins' authentic flavor. A lot of citrus ends up in heating cells. Leaf mandarins are picked genuinely ready-to-eat. The fruit picked this morning is sorted this afternoon. They will be transported this evening."
"This citrus variety, therefore, always arrives farm fresh. Taste is always the no. 1 consideration. When their quality, color, and yield are good enough, it is a green light to start harvesting," says Adriaan.
Ros also tried to market leaf oranges. But they stopped. "Oranges leaves are much further away from the fruit than those of mandarins. As a result, they do not have the mandarin's unique presentation. Processing is also considerably more tricky," explains Lionel. The company now has its hands full with leaf mandarins. "We will close the season in April with Orri's. Before that, a considerable volume will have left."
"We are hoping to take the following step in improving efficiency. We want to do this with this new leaf mandarin packing station," says Lionel, who came up with this entirely new line. He did so along with farm equipment supplier, MAF Roda, and Tecnovill, a local machine manufacturer.
During our visit to the plant, almost 15.000kg leaf mandarins passed through the line in a single hour. "When it comes to technique, sorting mandarins is a real challenge. The little leaves cause considerable damage. The trick is also to get the right citrus into the right line on the machine," Lionel continues.
In the machine room, the fruit, literally, runs under your feet. The whole line can be seen on a screen. The line can be started and stopped remotely. Its speed can be adjusted too.
"The objective when this line was started was to be able to move higher volumes. We also wanted to treat the fruit better. We have succeeded in this. There will soon be more fruit on the market. This is because the Clemenules will start. We hope we will be at full capacity by then."
He points out that with this company, it is about the big picture. "It is not just about leaf mandarins. Or our own label. In everything we do, our quality must be distinctive," concludes Lionel.