Many sectors currently have to consider many factors and soft fruit is no exception. José Gandía (SAT Royal), Lisette Holmberg (ICA), and Jonathan Lock (Marks & Spencer) reiterated that at the recently held Global Berry Congress. They explained how suppliers and retailers must adapt to a new post-pandemic reality.
"Everything's getting more expensive for soft fruit, too," begins José. "Cultivation costs, energy, water, and labor are just some of the increasingly costly production factors. These are undoubtedly hurting the sector." Sales should be better to offset these higher prices, and companies must use viable margins.
"However, the euro/dollar exchange rate, chain disruptions, and inflation also make the sales side at least as challenging," adds Jonathan. And so, an important topic came up, which was an overall theme at the Global Berry Congress: Creating more value with less.
Jose Gandia (SAT Royal), Lisette Holmberg (ICA), and Jonathan Lock (Marks & Spencer) with Mike Knowles (Fruitnet) as mediator.
"That means increased, improved production with more efficient costs," explains José. "That's why we're always looking for new varieties with which to meet demand. Consumers, however, aren't willing to pay extra for quality. Their higher costs may well lead to fewer purchases, but a healthy diet and quality remain important. People want it all: products must taste, look, and smell good." Lisette agrees with this conclusion, though that it is not getting any easier.
She notices that in Sweden, too, growers are constantly trying to optimize yields. "But, you're also dependent on the weather. Sweden has had heat waves too, and we need to see yields stabilized. By considering, say, greenhouses or tunnels," says Lisette. The UK experienced a similar problem, Jonathan confirms. "In August, we had heat waves in the UK, which meant production fell by 40%. That's disastrous in these times when you need all the fruit."
Are there immediate solutions for these problems? Much of Europe is facing a well-known energy issue at present. "Other than waiting for prices to decline, there doesn't seem to be a quick solution," José admits. "You can try becoming energy neutral, but that costs money. We're trying to respond to this problem by using solar panels. Another way to counteract these costs is to pass them on through the chain. Here, chain-wide communication is crucial."
Jonathan agrees but points out that it is hard to get costs to reach end customers. "The market's polarized. On the one hand, consumers treat themselves because they're eating out less. Then they cook elaborate meals at home."
"On the other hand, they're more likely to abandon products that keep getting increasingly expensive. Then a cheap alternative is suddenly very attractive," he says. Lisette emphasizes that it is essential to retain shoppers. "They may be buying less, but you have to keep them coming back until after the crisis. Otherwise, you might lose them forever; they simply don't return."
Thus, promotions are vital to proving healthy fruits' added value. "These are some of the healthiest products on the planet. That - and flavor - should boost sales, but perhaps the health aspect should be showcased more. However, conveying this is challenging. Antioxidants aren't cool. Perhaps we should contrast that more with the drawbacks of, say, chocolate or candy," states Lisette.
The specialists also looked at the government's role. Regulations like taxes on unhealthy products or no taxes on fruits and vegetables are considered important measures to stimulate sales. "There are so many obese children. Getting the story across to families is, therefore, critical. With children, you have to start early. Then, you also make it increasingly attractive for adults to choose these healthy products," Jonathan concludes.