The Dutch fruit growers cooperative FruitMasters achieved a positive result in the 2022 financial year. That was announced during the Members' Annual General Meeting on Tuesday evening, May 30. Despite the turbulent market, turnover was €253 million, and almost €1 million was distributed to the members.
Following the pandemic years, 2022 was another challenging year for the whole sector. The war in Ukraine had several unforeseen consequences. Sales markets closed, and distribution chains were disrupted, increasing costs of all kinds. Skyhigh energy costs and other price increases are causing unprecedented inflation affecting all of Europe's purchasing power.
All this impacts both cost prices and consumer behavior. The climate was also particularly erratic, which affected fruit production and quality. Despite these challenges, the cooperative is looking ahead and, in 2022, presented its plans to invest heavily in centralized services to ensure continuity for its members and customers.
Market in focus
A perfect storm of factors led to a volatile apple market. The market pressure was high due to the sales markets closing, the overlapping import season, and Europe's large apple volume. Due to last year's hot summer, the market also struggled with storage quality challenges. Regionally, quite a few hail batches depressed the median price. But, for club varieties, the cooperative sees growth in several export markets.
The pear market looked good, with rising prices toward the end of 2022, due partly to a slightly reduced pear supply in Europe. The soft and stone fruit and berry seasons were erratic again. Last year, the weather significantly affected continuity and harvest volumes. Cherries were the exception after the dip in 2021. The summer went well for soft fruit and berries with many kilos and good prices. But huge costs increase, mainly due to high energy prices, weighed those crops down.
Despite these market challenges, the cooperative is focusing on the healthy growth of its activities and building a future-proof organization. The goal? Continuity and improving member returns for healthy business operations. Healthy growth does not mean more but better investments by creating a future-proof organization that delivers chain efficiency and savings.
And by continuing to grow its commercial activities responsibly. That, with tasty, healthy fruit sustainably grown in the Netherlands that contribute to health and well-being. That is because local cultivation and its relevance are top political priorities, as well as being high on shopping lists again.
Investing in a centralized service center for growers
One of FruitMasters' strategic priorities within its Health Growth program is the ambitious Masterplan. Automation, robotization, and centralized operational activities within a single closed cold chain are central to the large-scale new building on the FruitMasters site in Geldermalsen. For example, a 23-meter high-bay warehouse will be constructed for automated storage bins storage, and a floor will be added to the soft fruit packing facility. Both packing stations will have high-tech transport and automation solutions.
"The building will meet the highest sustainability requirements, too, which will lead to further cost saving," says a FruitMasters representative. "That will allow the cooperative to keep realizing added value for its members and increase sales opportunities. Construction began in early 2023 and should be done by late 2024. That won't or will minimally interfere with regular business processes."
The Masterplan is partly financed by the Fruit and Vegetable Sectoral Intervention (SIG&F), the CMO scheme's successor. The January 1, 2023, adjustments to this European subsidy scheme meant FruitMasters had to reapply for and get recognition as a producer organization. The submitted 2023-2029 Operational Plan, of which the Master Plan is a part, was approved in late February.
Efficiency and new markets
Aside from these Masterplan preparations, 2022 was characterized by further chain improvements and developing new markets. Various investments were made to increase capacity and productivity to achieve cost benefits. For instance, more apple packaging lines were added, and soft fruit packaging robots were installed.
Also, the number of solar panels has been dramatically expanded, doubling energy generation. That contributes to FruitMasters' goal of becoming self-sufficient in its total energy needs. With the new BioMasters platform, steps are being taken to develop the organic market further.
On December 23, 2022, FruitMasters held its last auction. Day trading now happens in the new wholesale location where buyers can view the day-fresh product and benefit from even faster loading, multiple business days, and a larger fruit supply. The year ended positively as the cooperative was rated the best Private Label supplier in the Netherlands, thus winning the Industry Distribution Trophy.