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Pasquino De Vuyst, Square Melon:

"Despite Easter, there's still high demand for spring products like wild garlic and morels"

"Sunny weather leads to open wallets. That's what my grandfather always used to say." For Pasquino De Vuyst of the Belgian company Square Melon, Easter sales are not quite shaping up to other years. "Easter's a bit too early this year, but huge spikes are a thing of the past, anyway. Unless the weather's nice. That changes the situation, but we prefer a regular week," he begins.

"We'll undoubtedly sell a lot today and tomorrow. Last year, though, we were tripping over pallets of strawberries. This year's sales are somewhat disappointing so far. Strawberries sales always depend on the weather. We're selling some, but people aren't overly eager for strawberries with this weather. It's also still early in the year. For all we know, we could have a dream Easter weekend in a few weeks, and it would've been bustling. It's simply slightly early."

Dutch asparagus pricier than Belgian
That extends to asparagus, too, says Pasquino. "We specialize mainly in Dutch asparagus, whose volumes are still relatively limited. It also makes them somewhat pricier than the Belgian ones. That draws price buyers towards those. Monday and Wednesday saw a lot of tonnage at Belgian auctions," he says.

"But in the Netherlands, there seems to be a bit less available. There, prices are, however, far more stable. In Belgium, asparagus went for €18, €19 last Friday, then suddenly dropped €5 on Monday. In the Netherlands, they remained stable at around €15. By comparison, on Thursday, they reached €11 in Belgium."

"There's definite demand, as always with Easter. You can still offset a one euro price difference with better quality, but €4 to €5 becomes a bit much. Don't get me wrong, we're still delivering several loads of asparagus every day, but it's different from other years. I'd expected prices to rise significantly again in Belgium in the week before Easter. But the past few days have seen plenty of volume coming onto the market, causing prices to drop significantly. But that's the life of a trader. Tomorrow, they could be a euro more expensive in Belgium; then we'll be the kings of asparagus again. It's give and take," says Pasquino.

Sometimes, more peeled than unpeeled
Pasquino sees a growing trend in the demand for convenience. Many segments have reported that the work is being taken from people's hands in cutting and preparing, even full cooking. The trader sees that this shift occurring with asparagus, too. "People are increasingly asking for peeled asparagus. It makes sense."

"Peeled costs only a little more than unpeeled. Also, restaurant staff isn't readily available, and peeling asparagus takes a lot of time. So, especially with large volumes, buying peeled asparagus is an easy choice. Some days, we receive more orders for peeled than unpeeled. That will probably continue in the coming years," Pasquino reckons.

Wild garlic, morels, and sea lavender
Also, De Vuyst notes there is no longer a true Easter rush. "There are no more peaks. We still sell well, and the coastal area can be busy. Yet, more and more restaurants close during the Easter holidays. People do other things. We prefer the regular weeks when people are at work and kids go to school. Those are the best."

That is also why, says Pasquino, Square Melon works so well with the 'regular' spring assortment. "Spring trade is going well. Morels, both Turkish and Chinese, and sea lavender are doing excellently. We're also starting to work a lot with peas and broad beans," he explains. "Those products are also less weather-dependent and are more suited to the hospitality industry, so they always sell quite well at this time of year."

"Wild garlic sells very well, too. We sell a pallet every week, and prices are around €10 at the cheapest of the season. We also do plenty of French green asparagus. Those are slowly coming in from the Netherlands as well. Their sales are steady, but that's because people seem to consider their price less and their quality and origin more. Easter is nice, but these kinds of product sales are nice and stable," Pasquino concludes.

For more information:
Pasquino De Vuyst
Square Melon
20/23 Bij Sint-Jacobs
9000, Gent, Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0) 92 233 416

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