2020 has been a very difficult year for the fruit and vegetable sector, marked - as for everyone else - by a health crisis that has really put it to the test. The way of living together and making contact with one another has radically changed this year, as have consumer habits and shopping trends. Despite all this, consumers are still looking for products that meet their expectations. This is the situation according to José Vercher and Carla Vercher, of Bollo, one of the most reputable brands in the Spanish fruit and vegetable sector.
José Vercher, with his daughter Carla.
"Looking back, I can only begin by thanking Bollo's human team in all departments, from cleaning employees to sales people, for their enormous effort to ensure that we could remain operative and not disappoint our customers, suppliers and, of course, the consumers,” says José Vercher, manager of Bollo International Fruits. We have to assess how far we have come this Christmas, as it hasn't been easy.”
“This hasn't been a year to look for new clients, but to fulfill the needs of those we already had and with whom we have managed to grow. I believe that all parties involved in the value chain, from suppliers to large retailers, have made a commitment to ensure that consumers continue to have food on the shelves. Furthermore, teleworking, which has always been a taboo subject in this sector, has ended up being implemented to do business,” says Carla Vercher, of Bollo's Marketing department.
The Valencian company is now in the middle of the citrus campaign, one of the cores of its business, together with the Piel de Sapo melon, of which they are the world's largest producers and the number one brand in the Iberian Peninsula.
“This has so far been a difficult season, as it has been very hot until recently, so the fruit has ripened too quickly and is a bit lacking in terms of size. Also, the clementines and oranges have been bought at expensive prices and the retail prices do not reflect it. This is very different to how it was in the first months of the pandemic, at the end of the 2019/2020 campaign, when there was an excessive demand for citrus fruits and the harvest had been limited. However, the most important thing for us is not to earn money, but to be able to serve all our customers. Our company has more than 98 years of history and if earnings fall one year, nothing happens. The most important thing is for the country to continue operating; therefore, we are assuming the increase in costs that the pandemic has brought," says José Vercher.
Bollo is a brand that is sold in supermarkets and high-end stores. In fact, it has been winning the Flavor of the Year award for Piel de Sapo melons for 4 years in a row. “Despite this crisis, premium products continue to have their buyers; those who know that what they are buying won't disappoint them, even if it is a little more expensive. Achieving this in the current context may be more complicated, but it is our hallmark. It is necessary to continue harvesting the product at the optimum point of ripeness and to do things very well, since the consumer is making a greater effort financially during the current crisis,” says José Vercher. “The marketing needs to be matched by good quality; otherwise, consumers will be very disappointed. We advertise our commitment to doing things right. The hardest thing in business is being fair to all parts of the chain. You cannot fail anyone,” he says.
Bollo's packing facilities.
One of the changes in purchasing trends observed in the premium segment has to do with packaging. “The demand for packaging in smaller formats is growing. We have been investing for years in all types of packaging to provide greater added value; in fact, we have more than 130 different types of packaging, and this number will continue to increase. We are preparing a new line with more attractive designs. We know that it is difficult to continue improving, but we hope to achieve it," says Carla Vercher, adding that despite everyone talking mostly about the pandemic," we continue to worry about sustainability. Our goal is to reduce the use of plastic."
In addition to having a big presence in the Spanish market, the company also exports to more than 34 countries. There has been a reduction of shipments to third-party markets, such as China, where the company has reached a significant share in the premium segment; however, this year exports could recover or even increase "if the fruit's condition allows it."Regarding the growing competition for Spanish citrus fruits from other producing countries, such as Egypt, José Vercher says that Spain still has an advantage, although it needs to continue innovating. "Egypt is very successful in producing certain products, such as orange juice, and being competitive, given the advantage of its much lower production costs. The same cannot be said for table oranges, with which they are unable to offer the necessary quality after January due to the country's climatic conditions. I believe that we must continue to strive to do things well in the Spanish citrus sector, and this should include a varietal renewal. We have to find very good varieties that are tasty and can also be easily shipped. We must identify any problems and find those varieties that others cannot supply in specific periods. It is something we can achieve, since the flexibility of Spanish producers has proven to be one of their strengths. We can also not forget that our proximity to European countries is a key factor behind the quality of our citrus.”