East4Fresh focuses on sweet potato and Asian vegetables for the European retail sector

"In Portugal, the focus is increasingly shifting to own cultivation”

Nowadays, sweet potatoes are a staple item in supermarket shelves. Some countries have long been major suppliers for the European retail market. These are the United States, North Africa, Latin America, and Spain.

In contrast, the Dutch specialist company, East4Fresh, has discovered a flourishing sales market for sweet potatoes. These are cultivated in Portugal. They want to continue with this. "Within two years, we want to supply European retailers year-round with Portuguese-grown product," explains the company's director, Helien Verhagen.

The current sweet potato market is still running smoothly," says Helien. "We have doubled our turnover compared to last year. This does not have so much to do with the acreage. It has more to do with the increased demand from the retail sector. We started the season with the new crop in September again. We should bring the last products to market in June."

"There is an intervening period until the start of the new season. That is in July and August. During that time, we are already active in the local market in Portugal," adds Verhagen. It is now a case of supplying the export market with good quality products during this timeframe. "That means we have to, for example, focus on later planting or storage techniques."

BU: East4Fresh has been focusing on retail for several years. It has focused on its core products of sweet potato and Asian vegetables. The wholesale company also supplies special exotics. These include Jackfruit, wasabi, and Ugli.

Modern varieties and retail concepts
East4Fresh has been able to build a good reputation within a few years. This is thanks to its Portuguese-grown sweet potatoes. Crucial here is the extremely fertile soil and the lack of Post Harvest substances, such as Scholar. These ensure that the entire line has excellent product quality. Quality analyses show that there is no, or hardly any, residue to be found on these sweet potatoes.

At the same time, a wide range of varieties are also being used. These include Covington, Bellevue, Lira. Lira is mostly sold in the Southern European market. 'We are also busy developing a purple variety for the export market. We are testing several products for the frozen goods department, too," continues Helien.

Germany and the Netherlands are the company's main sales market. In Germany, East4Fresh has been supplying large discounters for five years already. "We want to anticipate the growing need for organic sweet potatoes. This will be from countries such as Switzerland and Austria."

Run on Bok Choy and special Asian vegetables
East4Fresh does not only have sweet potatoes in its assortment. Their special Asian vegetables form another interesting priority. In this segment, the company now has the well-known Bok Choy leafy vegetable. A few less well-known varieties supplement this. These include choy sam, kay choy, and water spinach.

There has also been a definite growth in revenue in this segment, according to Verhagen. “Of our year-round cultivation, 80% is still mostly Dutch. We are currently, however, testing a few modern methods. We want to be able to grow these products in Portugal in due course."

The popularity of Asian vegetables among European consumers is growing rapidly. Standard and mini Bok Choy, however, still outperform the rest when it comes to volumes. "It will still be a few more years before the other varieties reach the level at which Bok Choy is at the moment. It is certainly important to offer a little information and recipes about the products to retailers," concludes Helien.

For more information:
Helien Verhagen
67 Transportweg
2676 LM Maasdijk, NL
Tel: +31 (0) 180 620 201
Email: helien@east4fresh.nl   

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