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Helien Verhagen, East4Fresh-Color2Food:

"Huge demand for new Portuguese sweet potato crop"

At East4Fresh-Color2Food in the Netherlands, harvesting the first conventional sweet potatoes has kicked off the new Portuguese sweet potato season. Helien Verhagen expects a surprising season, as there were 25 to 40% less planting in both Spain and Egypt. The current dollar exchange rate also does not make North American sweet potato imports any more interesting. "We're in the comfortable position of having enormous demand for sweet potatoes from Portugal. The phone is ringing off the hook," she begins.

"Yet, we, too, face increased costs, like transportation. It costs €1,000 more per truck, while energy, packaging, and crop protection product prices have also risen sharply. These may well be developments everyone has to deal with, but they do create market tension. I don't expect the market to escape hefty price increases. I think that will happen as early as December, whereas it's usually often only from January onwards."

"We sent the first sweet potatoes to our German clients last week. Our conventional acreage is the same as last year, but the organic acreage has increased by 30-35 hectares, which we'll begin harvesting in mid-October. I visited the farm last week, and the crop looks nice: uniform and of excellent quality," says Helien.

Future in organics
"We see much promise in, especially, the organic segment. However, retail organic product prices are often very high. We want to grow and supply organic sweet potatoes field-to-fork, thus keeping the chain transparent, and without using brokers. That also lets our customers offer cheaper consumer prices."

New this year to East4Fresh-Color2Food is their full focus on purple and white-fleshed sweet potatoes. "We've started growing the Bonita variety, a typical Asian variety with a white peel and skin. Tests among top chefs show that its nutty flavor is well-received. Our purple sweet potatoes have now reached the correct shape and size. Our orange sweet potatoes have been there for a while, but now that our purple ones have reached that point too, we can start scaling up that production as well," explains Helien.

Anti-food waste program
Last year, East4Fresh introduced new plastic-free packaging. Yet, says Helien, this packaging has not yet achieved a successful breakthrough. "People don't genuinely want to switch to plastic-free yet. I did expect that and thought this introduction was too early. Still,  we'll keep working on an anti-food waste program. We're going to process our industrial product ourselves into, say, smoothies, soup, and gluten-free bread. We're still exploring whether we'll sell these processed products only in Portugal or on a European scale."

According to Verhagen, Portuguese sweet potato cultivation is characterized by a sector comprised of many small-scale growers. "Our strength, besides cultivation, lies in storage and sorting. Many local growers don't have this storage capacity and thus sell most of their produce immediately on the local market."

"Our focus lies, instead, mainly on exports. We have a good relationship with a German retailer, which we expand annually. Besides sweet potatoes, this year, we're also offering Portuguese pumpkins in both organic and conventional varieties. We've started with the Kabocha, Hokkaido, and Butternut Squash," Helien concludes.

For more information:
Helien Verhagen
East4Fresh / Color2Food
Tel: +31 (0) 174 535 353
Mob: +31 (0) 683 244 661


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