"The market is definitely growing overall," says Raf Fissette of Berrymark. This Belgian company supplies frozen fruit and purees to the food industry worldwide. He says the frozen fruit market has generally been doing well in recent years. "It's a growth market, and our sales volumes have increased annually in recent years. There's a global upward trend."
Raf says the total frozen fruit consumption has increased because, during the pandemic, consumers became familiar with small packs of frozen fruits in the supermarket. "That trend's growing. People used to think frozen fruit is of inferior quality, but that's no longer the case. It's easy to use, and you always have it on hand. There's now a larger target group that has come to know the product and continues to use it."
Smoothies and freeze-dried fruit
The global pandemic was kind to another sector - the jam industry. Raf says demand for jams increased due to people stock-piling. However, frozen fruit also enjoys increased interest as an ingredient in smoothies. And freeze-dried fruit is used in breakfast cereals and healthy snacks. "The freeze-dried fruit market has risen sharply in recent years. Large volumes of mainly red frozen fruit go there," he says.
"The smoothie and cocktail market is the only genuinely new one to have emerged in the last ten years." Berrymark also sees growth in the market's organic portion. "That segment has developed strongly. Organic frozen fruit on its own and as an ingredient for yogurt or jams," Raf continues. The same cannot be said for the foodservice and the pie filling markets, which had a difficult time during the pandemic. These are, however, currently picking up again.
Berrymark uses as wide an approach as possible in the frozen fruit market, both for sourcing and sales. A strategy that has paid off, Raf says. "We export worldwide to about 50 countries, which is a very comfortable spread for us. We're not dependent on a particular segment or country. That was noticeably beneficial during the pandemic when sales to the foodservice industry stagnated. Retail then took over the market with industry customers producing for the supermarkets."
Berrymark also strives to maintain stable client relationships. "Our regular buyers take precedence over spot buyers who may purchase once a year. For example, if there's little volume available at high prices, like last year, we try to deliver as much as possible to our regular customers. We try to get through it together, with reasonable prices. We consider things long-term. Even though it's a very competitive market, we've managed to build a nice, stable client base," explains Fissette.
But the company also sees the importance of supply diversification. "We source very broadly. There's always a harvest somewhere. We can, thus, spread the risk and, especially if we need larger volumes, don't have to rely on a single origin." Crop failure is one of those risks. Berrymark, for example, expects a poor apricot harvest in Spain this year. It, thus, has to try and find apricots elsewhere.
Raf points out that freight rates increasingly affect the decision to buy fruit. "The further you go to get the fruit, the more expensive it often becomes. Those freight rates and the strong dollar mean certain origins are no longer competitive on the European market," he adds. He is not sure about this year's supply from Ukraine. "We get blueberries and cranberries from Ukraine."
"In recent years, that country has also developed very strongly towards strawberries, raspberries, and wild blackberries," Raf says. He adds that there have been many developments in Ukraine in recent years, with new factories being constructed and farming planting large fields of berries. "We don't know what that will offer this season. The question is whether they can start producing and harvesting."
Fissette says rising prices and inflation are causing uncertainty too. He mentions the high freezing costs that affect the production process. "There'll be some good sums done next season to avoid too many goods being in the freezer or for too long. Every kilo that stands there for a week costs extra money," he says. "That will be considered when the upcoming new European harvest begins."
Berrymark is also including the higher costs in its new sales contract negotiations, but Raf says the bottleneck lies with supermarkets. "They have to agree to our customers' prices. You have to try and find a balance, but they, too, must absorb some of the costs." He thinks the entire chain must bear the burden because not all increases can be passed on. "It's not infinite; everyone will have to compromise to reach a mutual goal," Raf concludes.