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Helien Verhagen, East4Fresh:

"We're expanding our organic sweet potato acreage by 30 hectares in Portugal"

The Portuguese sweet potato season is coming to an end at East4Fresh. Helien Verhagen is delighted with how it went. "There were fewer lockdowns, so I'd expected a stabilization year. But we managed a plus again," she says.

Organic sweet potatoes are doing especially well. Reason enough for this Dutch company to expand its organic acreage by 30 hectares next year. That will be added to the 160 hectares it already has in Portugal. "We believe in organic's future. All sizes are selling excellently. This was a test year, but it went so well that we decided to expand. Also, in Southern Europe, there are 20% fewer sweet potato plants sold, and Egypt has 40% less acreage. So, we're confident about the new season."

The first sweet potatoes of the new season have been planted in Portugal. East4Fresh controls the entire process.

Portuguese sweet potatoes are particularly popular in the German-speaking retail sector, says Helien. "As soon as we start harvesting the Bellevue sweet potatoes in Portugal, their sales double. And this year, we'll continue with our own-grown Portuguese sweet potatoes until late May, a month later than last year. Supplemented by the South African season until September, we can guarantee a year-round supply."

According to her, although German supermarkets are eager for these Portuguese sweet potatoes, Dutch retailers still lag. "For now, price still trumps quality at Dutch retailers. Hopefully, when we have an organic sweet potatoes program soon, people will appreciate European cultivation more."

Complementing the Bellevue variety, East4Fresh is hard at work developing purple varieties and the white Murasaki sweet potato. "These are especially popular on the Asian market. It'll take time to sell large quantities because people have to become familiar with them. But they taste extraordinary, and a tricolored package presents very well. We're going to expand the planting of the purple sweet potatoes again next year," Verhagen explains.

She is not overly concerned about the increasing number of profiteers in the sweet potato market. "There aren't that many parties who can supply these volumes of Portuguese sweet potatoes. Besides, we rely on our strengths. We cultivate most of our supply ourselves, and when we buy-in, the sweet potatoes always come into our warehouse. So we can guarantee our high standard."

Along with sweet potatoes, East4Fresh hopes to expand its 'Field-to-Fork' program in the coming years too. Already supplying Portuguese pumpkins of all kinds, the company is looking to expand its cultivation of exotics in Spain and Portugal. "Own-grown MRL-free ginger, for example. We're going to test everything that currently comes from overseas we can grow in Europe. We want to eventually have a year-round locally-grown, preferably organic package," Helien concludes.

For more information:
Helien Verhagen
Tel: +31 (0) 174 535 353

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