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Low demand threatens Egyptian strawberries

The Egyptian strawberry season has gotten underway, and while exports from the country still have a wide reach throughout the world, the lingering effects of the worldwide economic crisis continue to hamper consumer demand.

“We've seen less demand, especially coming from Europe and the UK,” said Omar El-Naggar of Pico Modern Agriculture Company. The company is one of the largest strawberry growers in Egypt as well as the largest exporter in terms of volume. Their berries ship to Asia, South Africa, the Middle East, Africa, UK and the continent of Europe, and they hold the distinction of being the largest supplier of winter soft fruit for Mark and Spencer UK in the world. But even with that kind of reach, EL-Naggar said they see low demand as a threat to their business.

“I think the problem of demand comes from the global recession,” he said. “People prefer to buy things like oranges, grapes, sugar or bread instead of strawberries because they consider strawberries to be a special treat.” With that premium status in a lot of markets, strawberry suppliers could, at least in the past, garner good prices for their produce. But, EL-Naggar noted, even that's been changing.

“Strawberries have traditionally been a very special fruit, a fruit that people enjoyed as a treat around the holidays,” he said. “But what threatens the fruit now is the pricing. The price has come down over the past three years.” He blamed bad economic times for that as well, but he added that a string of years with bad weather around the holidays has probably kept consumers indoors and averse to shopping for many luxury goods.

Further driving down prices has been increased competition from Belgian, Moroccan, Dutch, Korean and New Zealand strawberries. Although both the Belgian and Dutch seasons end about when the Egyptian season begins, heavy volumes from Belgium and Holland can saturate the market by the time Egyptian strawberries arrive. Morocco, along with Israel, competes directly with Egypt, but EL-Naggar said that, although increased competition is a threat, the advantages from their growing operations will see them through.

“We have a longer season and we have more growing land than Morocco and Israel, so we can get more volumes,” he said. He added that they don't suffer from some of the water and irrigation problems that plague growers in Israel.

“We don't need to spend lots of money on water from far away sources,” said EL-Naggar. “Our soil is also very good, we have very few soil-borne diseases, and that's a big advantage we have.”

The Egyptian strawberry season got underway this month and is expected to continue through March of next year.

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