The plum harvest in Northwestern Europe is normally not a great source of income for the chain, but this year the prices are good. There are even some shortages on the market here and there. Norway has been hit particularly hard, as 80% of the harvest there was lost due to snowfall in May. The plum market this season is also marked by the loss of the Brazilian market for Spanish plums. This has resulted in a little more competition for the US in the North American market and for the Turks in India and Southeast Asia.
Netherlands: Good pricing
The acreage devoted to plums has been reduced somewhat in recent years and that is both literally and figuratively bearing fruit this year. "In recent years, plums haven't been that profitable, but prices are good this season. The price of the Reine Victoria stands at around 2 Euro," says a fruit trader from the north of the country. “In other years, there has sometimes been a surplus, but now there are even some shortages here and there. The Spanish stone fruit supply is drying up and we can fill that gap nicely with our plums. Also, the holidays here in the north of the country are already over and that is good for the demand. ”The sale of Dutch plums is mainly a domestic affair. The Opal season has now ended, the Jubileum variety is also as good as sold out, and now the switch is being made to the Reine Victoria and the varieties that fall under the Lazoet concept. We will continue with those for another four weeks."
Belgium: Slightly smaller volume due to frost damage in spring
The volume of Belgian plums on the market is comparable to last year's. In the beginning, the production was expected to be greater than last year's, but part of the harvest was damaged by frost in the spring. Belgian plums will be on the market for about 5 to 6 weeks. The quality of the fruit is looking good. Last week's heat wave caused sunburn damage to a small share of the plums, but only those at the top of the tree have been affected. The demand for Belgian plums is growing steadily every year.
Germany: Season has started exceptionally early
Domestic plums currently dominate the German trade, especially the Top, Hanita and Cacaks Schöne varieties. Spain and Italy are exporting larger batches, while the share of Eastern European plums seems to be declining, with the exception of the Bosnian Stanley variety. Since the supply in itself has been more than sufficient, there have been difficulties with the trade of smaller or unripe fruits. Prices have ranged from 1 Euro / kg for Bosnian goods to 2 Euro for the domestic Cacaks Schöne. Moreover, large volumes of Cacaks are currently being imported from Poland, the Czech Republic and Serbia.
The domestic plum season in Germany has started extremely early this year. The harvest is already in full swing in the main growing areas of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. “We expect a slightly smaller harvest due to the spring frosts; however, the current estimate is still positive,” say the cooperatives in Middelbaden and Palatinate.
The South German growers' cooperatives are also investing in new varieties. “The Franzi variety will be harvested commercially for the first time this year after a three-year test phase. The production will be offered in the German retail,” says Obstgroßmarkt Mittelbaden (OGM). VOG Ingelheim also recently announced that it will be launching new varieties in partnership with breeders.
In any case, the German market stands out for its love for the "Zwetschgen", a special plum variety that is extremely suitable for industrial processing (mainly for baking products). “Classic plums only account for 10% of our sales, the rest are 'Zwetschgen',” says a trader. These plums are especially popular around this time of the year and can therefore often be found on retailer shelves.
France: Exceptional year due to early ripening
The exceptionally early ripening of the plums at the start continued throughout the season, which made this year quite special. As a result, the supply will also end earlier than usual. This year's harvest is about a third smaller than last year's; however, the smaller volumes ensure better quality with a high sugar content. Prices have also been quite good during the season and the demand has been lower.
Norway: Plum harvest ruined by snowfall
2019 was a record year for Norwegian plums, but the situation is very different this season. Due to snowfall and frost, growers in the country are dealing with a drop of more than 80%. Norwegian growers have never had such a bad season. The harvest is estimated at 600-700 tons (compared to 1,900 tons last year).
Italy: Higher prices were expected due to spring frosts
Good plum prices are reported in Northern Italy, but more had been expected. In the wholesale market of Vignola, in Modena, the quality of the product is good, with prices ranging from 0.80 to 3.00 € / kg, depending on the variety and size. The Vignola wholesale market is one of the most important for plums. Almost 60% of the plums have been lost due to the impact of spring frosts. Growers had expected a higher demand and prices. The Regina is the most popular variety, with prices ranging between 2 and 3 € / kg. The Grossa di Felisio is also in high demand, with prices amounting to around 1.50 € / kg.
Spain: Loss of Brazilian market leads to falling prices
Plum production volumes in the Spanish region of Extremadura, the fruit's largest supplier in Spain, are about 25% lower than last season. Although the first part of the season was good when it came to the demand and prices, the surprising loss of the Brazilian market has led to declining prices this year. Had this market not been lost, the season would probably have been good, given the decline in the production in other countries, such as Italy, France, Portugal or Greece, due to frost and hail storms. Many companies from Extremadura had invested heavily in exporting to Brazil. Last season, more than 20,000 tons were shipped there. It is a very attractive market due to the good demand for sizes 50 and above and 9 kg bulk containers. The good results achieved in this country have led many exporters to put all their eggs in the same basket.
Although the fruit is also shipped, to some extent, to other third markets, such as India, Europe remains one of the main destinations for plum exports. In a year like this, however, the gaps are increasingly filled by local productions. This year has already been difficult, but what will happen next year if Spanish exporters are still unable to export to Brazil or Italy and other traditional export countries have a normal harvest?
"The 2018 Spanish plum season was characterized by a low yield, both in Extremadura and in the rest of Europe," said an exporter. "But Spanish exporters relied on the Brazilian market. The situation this season is worrying." The truth is that the fruit sector in Extremadura is heavily dependent on plums, as peaches and nectarines have been left behind and are losing ground to other Spanish production areas.
Turkey: Acreage devoted to plums is expanding
Plums are grown all over Turkey, mainly along the coast of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. The production keeps increasing, as new plantations continue to be set up. More plums are expected next year. This season, the weather conditions have ensured the fruit's good growth. The demand for the Japanese plum is growing in Europe, but Turkey ships the majority of these to Asian countries, such as India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Given the greater demand, despite the somewhat higher prices, it could be said that customers are willing to pay above-average prices for the Japanese plum.
South Africa: Growers mainly concerned with the situation in the port
South African growers are keeping an eye on the weather conditions. In terms of water supply, things are looking good. There has been sufficient rainfall and snowfall has provided some cold. However, most growers could now use a little more sunshine to facilitate the pollination of the plums in the orchards. The earliest varieties have already completed the flowering stage and other varieties will follow in the coming weeks. However, too much wind and cloudy weather could have negative consequences for the pollination.
When it comes to water management, the season is already looking better than last year's. However, plum growers are particularly concerned about the situation in Cape Town harbor, which reports great delays in the departure of shipments and input costs for electricity (whose supply is also regularly failing in the country) and packaging. The harvest estimate will follow at the end of next month. The first plums are harvested in November.
China: Drastic decline in plum exports
Shuanghua plum is currently the most popular in the Chinese market. The average price is around 4 RMB / kg (0.49 € / kg). The most exclusive variety, however, is the Fengtang plum, with an average price of around 72 RMB / kg (8.80 € / kg). Recently, the Xiangcui plum is the one that has been gaining the most popularity and is also being cultivated in more and more regions. This variety is also exported to Southeast Asia. In April, however, the weather conditions were bad and that had an impact on the quality. Due to the coronavirus and the extreme weather conditions, the export volume has been drastically reduced this year. Moreover, the price on the wholesale market has fallen by almost a third. China's export season lasts from July to October. The US and Turkey are the main competitors for the Chinese in the region.
North America: Competition from Spain in the domestic market
The plum supply in the US is fairly limited. In California, there were issues with the flowering of some varieties, resulting in smaller volumes. This is mainly due to the fact that the weather was cold and rainy during the pollination stage. However, the fruit hanging on the trees is larger in size and of good quality. At the moment, growers are facing new challenges due to the weather. “We are now seeing record heat in the region, so we are picking extra plums,” says a grower.
This year, there is mainly competition from Spain in the domestic market, as that country has lost Brazil as destination. “We don't normally see so many Spanish plums on the US, Canadian and Mexican markets, but we do this year,” says a trader. However, there is not much fear of competition, because the demand for plums on the domestic market is good, as are the prices. Things would have been different with a record harvest in the US. American growers themselves also export some of their plums to markets in Southeast Asia, but the demand there is also just average due to Spanish competition. Prices both in the domestic and the export markets are higher than last year.
Australia: Strong increase of exports to China
According to the latest Hort Innovation statistics, in the year ending in June 2019, plum production in Australia was slightly greater than in previous years. Volumes increased by 8%, to 32,241 tonnes, and the value grew by 4%, to 75.7 million AUD. Exports rose by a significant 29%, to 6,839 tonnes, and the value increased by 25%, to AUD 25 million. Exports to China have grown particularly sharply since access was gained to that market, from just one ton in 2017 to 2,604 tons in 2019, which is 38% of Australia's international supply (the largest share for any single international market).
New Zealand: Commitment to growing new varieties
After the premature end of the latest season, New Zealand's plum growers are hoping for a longer 2020-21 campaign. In terms of exports, plum sales are significantly lower than the 60 tons reported five years ago, but according to Summerfruit NZ, they could be at the start of an upward trend. Last season, exports rose to just over 29 tons, from just over 21 tons at the end of the 2018-19 season, with the US being the main market for the fruit.
New Zealand's plum growers are calling for the testing of new ideas, new varieties and more research on the health benefits of anthocyanin-rich red plums, of which a Hawke's Bay producer is getting phenomenal yields from trees as young as three years old. The Flavor Blast is one of the most recent plum varieties grown in New Zealand, and is proving to be a success.
Next week: Overview global potato market