The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of the corona crisis. This pandemic has had a significant impact on the fruit and vegetable sector too. "Belgium went into lockdown in mid-March. When that happened, we were concerned about what effect this would have on the strawberry season," admits Luc Bruneel of Coöperatie Hoogstraten. ""If we take stock so far, we can be nothing but positive."
"We're at the same level as two years ago in terms of supplied volumes. But, when it comes to revenue, we're faring considerably better. The domestic season started well, with lots of demand. Exports followed shortly, although two weeks later than usual. The sunny spring weather made for above-average prices. It also resulted in good quality strawberries. That created confidence among our clients."
""We currently have less available supply. But that's normal for the summer. There's a decent demand for strawberries at the moment. Scandinavia, France, the UK, and Germany are all still well on the market. More people are staying in their home countries, so consumption is considerably higher than usual for the holiday period," says Luc. "This year, we introduced a new cardboard strawberry packaging. Each tray has a unique QR code."
"This links the client directly to the grower. That emphasizes our strawberries' local character. It also creates a bond of trust between the Hoogstraten brand and the consumer. Certainly, in these coronavirus times, we noticed that local has become very important to people. We called for people to buy local fruit and vegetables. We did so along with (the Flanders' Agricultural Marketing Board) VLAM. This campaign was well-received by end consumers."
Coöperatie Hoogstraten recently launched a radio, TV, and social media campaign. These promote the organization's products. "We saw that these commercials are highly appreciated during this corona time. There's been a lot of negative reporting in the news. So, positive marketing about tasty, healthy products was very well-received. We did market research along with VLAM," continues Luc.
"This showed that on an average day in May, 26% of Belgian families included strawberries in their grocery shopping. Those are remarkable numbers. Now that people are home, they're far busier with food. And, especially with tasty, healthy food. Strawberries are an excellent product for this. The research also showed that strawberry consumption is higher than in normal years. There's a general increase in soft fruit consumption. And strawberries are a good example of that."
Block lot 2.0
"The strawberries' success isn't only thanks to the cooperative's efforts. But, to a large extent, to our trade partners too. As a cooperative, we continue to focus on a strong quality policy. Our trade partners help convey this policy to our clients. At the same time, we also focus on continually improving our sales systems, like block lot sales. Here too, we keep taking further steps. In the short term, we want to introduce block lot 2.0. This will give our buyers a more complete view of what's on offer," explains Bruneel.
"They can also control their purchases better. All these improvements, however, remain embedded in the auctioning system. This year, that once again proved its role as a performant sales system for strawberries. The aim is to give our clients the chance to make the best choice from our range. That's based on various characteristics like variety, quality, sizes, and color. They can then distinguish themselves from other suppliers on the market. That translates into prices that mean our growers get paid for their work."
In mid-August, the kiwiberry season will begin at Coöperatie Hoogstraten again. "The season runs from then until about mid-October. We've agreed on different programs with retailers. We're going to have nice promotions. Through the years, we've come to realize that kiwiberries are a difficult product. But, consumers are starting to appreciate them more and more. This year, we have somewhat less volume available. That's because part of the crop was frost-damaged. That which is available is of good quality. This year, we're going to try our best to make a success of this," concludes Luc.