The coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the Dutch asparagus sector. "No-one could have anticipated this," says Will Teeuwen. He grows asparagus for Teboza in the Limburgse Helden region of the Netherlands. However, according to him, there are still plenty of sales opportunities. "The gap left by the hospitality industry falling away needs to be filled."
"We need to activate the retail sector for that. I hope people will now eat more fresh, healthy meals. That is, besides all the pasta. They are, after all, home all week now. This is becoming the new normal. We are creatures of habit. We usually follow a pattern that is now completely disrupted. It is, therefore, logical that people still need to find their new rhythm."
"We are now in a transition period. Last week, we saw a spike in people panic buying at supermarkets. This hoarding behavior then also provided new challenges for suppliers. Now, things are calming down a little at supermarkets. We started supplying Dutch supermarkets two weeks ago. That is actually going very well. For consumers, asparagus is usually not at the top of their minds now. But they must see that this product is available in stores again. Sales are far quieter than normal on the Belgian market. That is currently a major challenge," says Will.
"Prices are not yet at the desired level. But that is the least of my worries at the moment. Some sectors have no sales at all anymore. Our sales to Dutch supermarkets still look good. The German retailers usually start buying later. They still have Greek asparagus in their shelves."
"I have been involved with asparagus for several years now. In all that time, it seems no crisis has had any significant effect on asparagus consumption. Asparagus has never been a product people eat every day. But, particularly in bad times, people often reward themselves with a meal that includes asparagus," continues the grower.
"The true challenge is to find enough harvesting laborers. That is not only the case in the Netherlands. It is true for many other production countries too. Therefore, not everyone will be able to harvest their crops. This will also result in lower supply." Will still has enough staff available for now. That is partly thanks to the availability of more people, who cannot work in other sectors. "This will, however, remain an issue in the weeks to come. Everyone is unsure of what is to come."
"We have had to delay many harvesting laborers from starting. That is due to the stormy, rainy weather. It is still extremely difficult to get people from Eastern Europe here. We see that every country - and even every customs officer - seems to be following different rules. This is despite the political agreements. The Netherlands, after all, needs foreign workers. They are needed to keep the food supply going," concludes Will.