East4Fresh has not only planted more conventional sweet potatoes in Portugal. This Dutch company has also significantly ramped up its organic sweet potato cultivation in that country. "We started with five hectares. But we want to move towards 25 hectares of organic sweet potatoes next year. Then we'll have up to 600,000 kg available," says Helien Verhagen.
"The first organic crop was successful. The organic yields are slightly lower than those of organic cultivation. And you have somewhat more trouble with insects. But, for the first year, we have a nice product at our disposal. Though the volumes are still limited. We grow the orange-fleshed variety Bellevue organically. This variety is beautifully bright in color. It's softer too, so it's easier to process. Our retail customers tell us that these sweet potatoes sell better than the other varieties on the market."
Sweet potato sales are going well. In Portugal, average yields per hectare are somewhat lower. That country, like all of Southern Europe, had a poor spring. "The Spanish are almost off the market, and there's still some Egyptian product. But once that's gone, the market usually keeps rising," says Helien.
East4Fresh has again planted about 160 hectares of sweet potatoes in Portugal this year. These are grown in an area close to the Algarve. Because of their protected designation of origin, the IGP label distinguishes these vegetables. The company also sources sweet potatoes from South Africa.
East4Fresh's top sales market is the German-speaking countries. Dutch retailers complement this. "Last year our sales grew by 25-30%. We expect to continue on that line this year. Also, we're focusing fully on the further processing of sweet potatoes," Helien continues.
"For example, we're currently developing flour made from sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are protein-rich and, so, very popular with gym bunnies. We're currently developing microwaveable packaging too. That's for both organic and conventional sweet potatoes."
East4Fresh has customized packaging, like EPS. But, lately, there has been particular demand for plastic-free, cardboard 750g retail packaging. These trays contain three to four medium-sized sweet potatoes. "Plastic reduction is a hot topic with our clients. France has banned plastic fruit and vegetable packaging. We, thus, expect this plastic-free packaging to do well," concludes Helien.