The Dutch soft fruit season is gradually getting going. "The weather affected the ripening process and volumes. It was all still on the modest side at the end of May," says soft and top fruit trader Ad Timmermans. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries were developing very gradually. For strawberries, that led to high to very high prices. "Around Mother's Day, strawberries were selling for €5/500g. People don't want to buy at those prices."
Ad has determined that summer fruit development stands or falls with the weather. Say it's warmer for an extended time in June. Then there's the danger of an explosion of different types of soft fruits from various countries. "If the market can't handle that, prices come under pressure." He cites redcurrants as an example. "At the end of May, these come from greenhouses and covered cultivation."
"If the weather remains gloomy, outdoor production can lag. That causes a gap when transitioning from covered to outdoor cultivation. When the weather turns, production can catch up." This also applies to cherries, which Ad says are very sensitive to the weather. "What was hanging on the trees looked pretty good before the June shedding. The cold spring can affect that."
Timmermans says covered cultivation is becoming increasingly important for soft fruits. "Because demand is higher, there's an increasingly strong trend in strawberries towards covered cultivation. Strawberries from covered cultivation have a more consistent color and better appearance. Open field strawberries could still have a bit of straw or some soil on them. Consumers don't like that much." There are fewer but larger raspberry and blackberry growers. They're putting more effort into covered cultivation to protect their fruit from the weather.
Greengrocers and country stores
The trader says people love soft fruit because they're healthy. "With COVID-19, people are taking advantage of that." That leads to additional consumption. "I feel like it's a new market. Consumers have discovered soft fruit, and it's also available everywhere." Timmermans focuses mainly on wholesalers. But, greengrocers and country stores are also doing well during this pandemic, Ad says.
"These stores are better appreciated. And people realize they can find quality goods, which supermarkets don't offer, there. Retailers strive for consistent, stable quality, sometimes at the expense of taste," he concludes. Ad hopes shoppers will still go to these specialty stores, even once things have returned to normal.