“When I say young, I mean young in spirit. These growers made it clear that they wanted to establish a cooperative that was different from traditional cooperatives. They would work as a cooperative, but they would also implement new ideas on how to work with the market,” explains Afroditi Bontzorlou.
The attitude of the founders of Thesgi was different from the cooperatives of older generations, as there have been many negative examples of older organizations with regards to how they developed and what mistakes were made. In general, the older cooperatives were seen as too traditional.
“To succeed, you need to be consistent, responsible and organized. Thesgi works with many different sections, such as a logistics department dedicated to transport management and communications or a general financial department that manages all banking and payments.” While all cooperative members have their own responsibilities, they are all supported by a centralized organization.
The cooperative is mainly involved with the marketing of spinach, broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower for the domestic market and with the export of these same products to Romania and Ukraine. “The export to Romania has been really smooth, as Romania is a member of the EU. The Ukrainian market has been a lot more challenging. Ukraine isn’t a member of the EU, which means that we have to deal a lot more with bureaucratic obstacles. This makes export to Ukraine time consuming and complex. We’re now in the process of seeing how these markets are going to fit within our regular activities.
The Romanian market is mainly interested in price, with quality being of secondary importance. However, according to Afroditi, Greek consumers are mainly preoccupied with quality. “They’re informed about health benefits and are willing to pay for quality, even if the Greek economy is currently still suffering from a recession. That is why we are working according to a Western marketing model, with a larger emphasis on quality. We’re not the cheapest in the market, but we aim to provide premium quality through certifications like globalGAP.”
The European lettuce sector was hit hard by the cold weather in February. All volumes were reduced, especially in Spain. In order to still have their demands met, markets like the British retail sector needed to resort to alternative suppliers, such as Greece. However, Greece was hit by the adverse weather conditions as well.
“Demand is now stable. After the Freskon event, we got in contact with customers and organizations with in interest in building up a network in Greece. What really matters to these organizations is to have quality products for the long term with stable prices. They need to be able to tap into cooperatives that are able to provide consistent quality throughout the years.”
Thesgi currently has an acreage of 30,000 acres, that is centrally cultivated in Thessaly. The company focuses on retailers and wholesalers. “We mainly operate with contract farmers. At the beginning of the year, we sign contracts that determine the volumes and prices before hand. In this way, all our members know in advance how much acreage is needed and what prices are obtained in the end.”
The main challenges for the cooperative are the weather conditions, that could severely jeopardize the yield that was agreed to in the contracts. Another challenge is the lack of knowledge about innovative best practices and new technologies, which according to Afroditi really needs to be improved.
“The Greek vegetable sector is one of the most important pillars of the Greek economy. We need to invest in infrastructure, precision farming technologies and in improving our methods. We lack a central management structure, like the one in place in the Netherlands. We need a overarching organization that takes care of management and marketing. This needs to be addressed in the near future, as we do have everything it takes to produce great quality. The weather is greatly in our favor. But good growing conditions aren’t enough.”
Afroditi added that the Greek vegetable sector is gradually shifting to more export, which would benefit a lot from foreign investors. While the current EU restrictions due to the economic crisis make any foreign investments difficult, the mentality of Greek growers and traders seems to shift as well. “It depends on the sector and how the investment is approached, but in general, the Greek market is now much more open about it than in the past.”
For more information:
Thesgi Farmers' Coperative of Thessaly (Greece)
Τel: +30 2410 579904
Fax: +30 2410 579905
Μob: +30 6936 524 115