After a turbulent 2020, the fruit trade industry is now entering a new phase. Even though the Corona virus will probably keep us on tenterhooks for some time to come, big plans are being made in many places. Pfalzmarkt für Obst und Gemüse eG also has a lot of new plans. Besides a large construction project and a new imports division, they want to remain true to the Palatinate as a quality brand. As they will remain true to the regional producers. This is not an easy undertaking, as many farms are facing a generational change and - like everywhere in agriculture - there is a problem with succession. We spoke to two Pfalzmarkt board members -Reinhard Oerther and Hans-Jörg Friedrich- about how the cooperative is helping regional fruit and vegetable growers in times of accelerated structural change.
Reinhard Oerther and Hans-Jörg Friedrich during a FreshPlaza visit in Mutterstadt, last October. (Photo: FreshPlaza.de)
"The focus of the cooperative continues to be on local, Palatinate products. We can only achieve our wide range of products from Germany's vegetable garden with the commitment and know-how of our medium-sized producers. Unfortunately, there are always producers in the region who retire for reasons of age and do not have an immediate successor for their businesses," the board members say. As a partner for food retailers, it is important for Pfalzmarkt to maintain the cultivation areas for production - and thus for the sustainable and fast supply of fresh produce to German consumers. As a last resort, they have therefore jointly decided to take over farms if necessary.
Hans-Jörg Friedrich and Reinhard Oerther. Photo: Pfalzmarkt eG
"The Palatinate cultivation area is in demand, so if no one in the producer's family wants to or can take over the farm, in the interest of all members and producers we will take action to ensure our ability to supply in the medium term as well. This is in line with the demands made on us by the food retail trade as a fresh produce supplier located close to their doorstep."
So far, the cooperative's "own" production has been going well and they are not competing with their own member businesses: "Quite the opposite," they emphasise. "We are only filling the production gap that would otherwise inevitably have arisen. We are very transparent about the processes and so there is a lot of trust between our producers."
The cultivation on the farm, which was taken over last year, is going well. This has created a backup solution, which enables them to react quickly when necessary. At the same time, they are working on securing the future viability of the producer farms, thus also managing the generational change. "This is the only way we can consolidate the know-how in the Pfalzmarkt team. In the medium term, the number of producers in the region will decline, but it would be a pity if the land in the region could not be maintained."
Site expansion - right on schedule
The Palatinate market expansion is another central component in the strategic reorientation of the cooperative: "As a central hub for fresh fruit and vegetables, we offer the appropriate structures so that medium-sized producers have a future and can continue to exploit the advantages of the Palatinate fruit and vegetable cluster. These include the excellent resources in terms of soil, climate, irrigation as well as the network of highly specialised producers and service providers that make the location unique."
Construction is progressing rapidly. Photo: Pfalzmarkt eG
The company's direct surroundings, in the largest contiguous vegetable-growing area in Germany, bring many advantages. On a floor space of 30,000m², all movements of goods will be optimally controlled in the ultra-modern marketing hall in the future. "For example, driving distances will be shortened by 30 per cent. The new project will also set standards with regard to other factors, such as sustainable refrigeration technology, which will offer many advantages for partners from the food retail sector, consumers and producers. Figuratively speaking, it means the 'Germany's vegetable garden' is moving even closer to the consumer's refrigerator."
Oerther: "With the expansion of the location, we are creating the conditions for a freshness and quality offensive. Since the Palatinate traditionally offers the best conditions for natural growth, so the slogan 'Erntefrisch aus der Pfalz' (fresh harvest from the Palatinate) continues to stand for more variety, freshness, quality and -as the current Corona situation has shown- for reliability and security of supply."
After the ground-breaking ceremony at the end of August 2020, the entire building, including the roof and exterior façade, was completed by the end of 2020. By the time the new marketing hall - the first stage of the site expansion- is expected to be completed in late 2021, Pfalzmarkt will have invested around 30 million euros.