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Louis De Cleene, Devos Group:

"We have to be careful not to mistake today's higher sales for profits"

"There seem to be more and more positive signs coming from the top fruit market," says Louis De Cleene of Devos Group. "Both pears and apples are running off very well. Demand has always been high this season, but now supply really seems to be dwindling, especially for good quality. Still, turnover should not be mistaken for profit. Margins are still very small and really under pressure," Louis explains.

In recent weeks, the grower/exporter has been experiencing a big squeeze. "Actually, we are experiencing a lot of demand in all varieties, weights and qualities. Even from corners I don't normally expect it from. Because we don't want to make a mistake for ourselves and want to continue supplying good quality to existing customers, I simply cannot take some orders."

However, this positive trend in the market does not mean euphoria, according to the grower/trader. "Fruit prices today, compared to other years, are at an acceptable level. Nevertheless, the costs we have to incur, in all our parts, are still rising and I don't feel we can translate this to our customer. There are many suppliers in the top fruit market and it is always tough negotiating, both at retail and wholesale level. And those last pennies are the ones that allow you to keep evolving as a company. A normal margin seems only normal to me, because what are you doing it for if you can't make a little profit. It is, with all due respect, not voluntary work. It is often overlooked that we always work at the lower end of prices and I hope this mindset can change again."

"By the way, again, it's not that the situation is dramatic, let that be clear," Louis continued. "It is a wonderful sector, but when I explain to acquaintances from other sectors what risks we have to take and what we get in return, they are shocked. If we now look at the prices paid for Conference pears, you could say they are pretty good. For good pears, you pay around 80 to 90 cents. However, it used to be no exception that they went away for a euro. Everything has become more expensive, but the value of the product only decreases."

Apple prices on the rise too
"Whereas pear prices have been acceptable all season, apples too are now showing an increase, but they were in the gutter. This situation can be seen as going from very bad to moderate. Well sorted Jonagold apples have long been sold for 35 or 40 cents, which is far below cost price. We're getting away from that level a bit now, but it's not like we've suddenly gone up half a euro either. That pressure is so great, you can't compensate for that. It hasn't been like that for a long time, but now there is a, albeit very slight, positive signal in the market. Both for the top grade and for the industry, there is an increase in demand and therefore price for various reasons."

Rubis Gold, Early Desire and Queens Forelle
Meanwhile, Louis does feel very positive about their flagship apples, such as Rubis Gold, and pears, such as Early Desire and Queens Forelle. "Rubis Gold does give us hope in anxious days. We have invested a lot in it and planted a large amount, but it seems to be turning out very well for now. We had our first full crop this year with about 100 tonnes from trees we only planted very recently. There is a lot of interest and curiosity. Moreover, several parties have already indicated that they definitely want it in their range. I must also give credit here to the Nicolai family, the originators of the variety. They are very competent professionals, who have chosen for us to roll out the story together in the best possible way."

"In addition, the Early Desire and Queen's Forelle have also sold like hot cakes this year," Louis concludes. "Like all other pears, we have actually had a shortage of those. Since last week, the last crates have left and they have pretty much been pulled out of my hands. We see a lot of potential in these varieties, so that's great to see. Like the Rubis Gold, we won't jump on this like crazy either, but let it grow nicely organically."

For more information:
Louis De Cleene 
Devos Group
Eugeen Coolsstraat 66
3460 Bekkevoort - Belgium
+32(0)16 77 97 58

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