“We’re looking for direct importers in the Netherlands. The volumes of imported chestnuts in the Netherlands are increasing significantly, but most import is done through third parties in France or Germany.”
According to Ocak, most chestnuts that find their way to the European markets are from China. However, Chinese chestnuts are inferior in quality to Turkish chestnuts. They are also more expensive due to higher costs for logistics. “Somehow European retailers and consumers aren’t aware of the difference in quality,” says Ocak. “Chinese chestnuts have less taste than Turkish ones, but they’re almost as expensive as our product. We can deliver chestnuts within three to four days, while China is much more distant exporting country.”
The most important market for Aykes is Italy, while the company also sends chestnuts to the UK in the weeks before Christmas. The UK market has a short season, but the demand in Italy lasts throughout the whole year. “Because of the season, we’ve seen a huge bump in demand, which is actually already cooling down as Christmas isn’t that far away anymore. Our sales spiked in October, when we we’re able to send about ten trucks a week to Europe.” He also said that sales figures for the UK market have diminished when compared to the last two years, due to the weak British pound and Brexit.
The Italian market differs from the one in the UK, as Italy has a much larger industry that revolves around products based on processed chestnuts. Chestnuts are used for all sorts of products, such as a baby food based on chestnut flour. Chestnut flour also acts as a good alternative to cereals, which makes it invaluable for the production of gluten free products.
Chestnuts have become more popular among health aware consumers. While Turkey is also responsible for 80% of the worldwide production of hazelnuts, Ocak reckons that chestnuts are cheaper and more reliable than hazelnuts. “You get more out of chestnuts. Chestnuts are larger in size compared to hazelnuts, while hazelnuts are twice as expensive.”
According to Ocak, there are in general two types of chestnuts. The Castanet is usually processed into chestnut-based products, while the Marron is put on to the market as a fresh product. Bigger chestnuts get higher prices. The biggest type of chestnut goes for about €4 per kilo.
The Turkish region where the Aykes company has its headquarters, is ideally suited for growing chestnuts. The area is landlocked between the Mediterranean and the Aegean sea, which in combination between bordering mountainous regions, provides a climate that benefits the chestnut trees. This gives the Turkish chestnuts an edge over the competition from countries like China, Portugal and Spain. According to Ocak, most chestnuts are grown organically, even if not all chestnut growers are officially certified as organic.
”There will always be some competition from Spain and Portugal. But the chestnut sector in those countries isn’t as large as ours. Spain for instance is unable to provide for the whole of Europe. Spanish and Portuguese chestnuts are also more expensive due to higher labour costs,” explains Ocak. “The main challenge is awareness. There are a lot of Dutch chestnut buyers right now and demand is high. At the same time, most Dutch companies aren’t aware of the fact that they could import Turkish chestnut with a higher quality and a lower price. More education on this would benefit both European importers and the Turkish chestnut sector,” concludes Ocak.
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