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Alberto Bruna Pérez, Tollupol:

“Private labels can be a good strategy, but not for us”

Citrus producer Tollupol has a history that dates back to the 1920s, when a few friends and relatives in Valencia started exporting citrus to the French market. In 1927 they had a position on the wholesale market in Paris and a year later the brand La Vilolette was introduced. They started sending oranges to Barcelona during WWII, and a few years later they had a position in Barcelona’s wholesale market. In the years that followed Tollupol, Midinette, Diagonal, Le Mejor and Toi et Moi were put on the market. In this interview Director Alberto Bruna Pérez talks about why these brands are still so important today.

Director Alberto Bruna Pérez

New markets
Tollupol has garnered a very popular reputation in Paris and Barcelona as a specialist in premium quality citrus. Until ten years ago at least 90% of their production was sold via the above mentioned wholesale markets. Driven by rising costs, tight margins and pressure from international competition things started to change ten years ago. In November 2006 a new packing station, with a processing capacity that could reach 45 million kilos, was opened in Quartell, Spain, and since then they have entered new markets. 35% of their volume is now exported to wholesale partners in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Ireland and Poland.

“We had around 500 customers in Barcelona and 500 in Paris. We are extremely well known in both cities because of our history. With our new customers we can also increase our brand awareness elsewhere. We can build on years of experience, and we are confident that we are providing a unique product to our customers. We do business with customers that are twenty times as large as we are, and which can therefore offer interesting growth even if our products are just a small share of there global purchases,” says the director.

Unlike many other companies, private brands make up an important part of Tollupol’s strategy, “Supplying under a private label can be a good strategy, but it is not our strategy. Working with strong brands is also not the only way, but it is our way. We provide year round citrus of uniform quality to our customers, primarily from Valencia, and that is how we want to distinguish ourselves. Our prices are high, but not expensive when you consider the quality we deliver. Initially, some customers reacted sceptically, but more and more supermarkets are coming around. They want to be assured that what they are putting on their shelves is of premium quality.

Demand for organic fruit is booming. Right now we sell only a small volume of organic products through our wholesale channels, but I definitely do not rule out integrating an organic line in our packing station sometime in the future.”

Product availability
There is a lot of competition on the citrus market. Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and other countries are on the market during the Spanish season. Although, according to the director, Spain still has an advantage, “The best clementine’s in the world are grown here just a few kilometers away. Our company was founded in Valencia and we grow most of our products here, with our own cultivation as well as with partner growers. But maintaining our position is a big challenge, as I see it. Many orange growers have stopped in recent years because of poor returns. The enormous price pressure can endanger premium quality product availability.”

In the summertime, outside the Spanish season, Tollupol imports citrus from South America and South Africa in order to guarantee their customers year round availability. Alberto Bruna Pérez says that the measures taken by the EU, on the Citrus Black Spot (CBS) that was found on South African oranges, is a political decision, “There seems to be no significant correlation between the export of CBS-infected citrus from South Africa and Spanish cultivation.”

The Spanish orange and tangerine season started with lower yields. The heat wave in May, hail storms and too much rain and then not enough rain all had the effect of significantly reducing yields, “In recent years we have clearly seen the effects of climate change. The last three years have been extremely warm and that is not good for the winter fruit. In terms of quality, it is also not the best season,” says Alberto Bruna Pérez. He finds it difficult to give a picture of the rest of the season, “One season with low production can result in a good year. All in all, it could turn out to be an average season.”

Extremely selective
While other growers in Valencia have (partly) switched over to growing persimmons, Tollupol continues to grow premium quality citrus, “That’s what we are known for and we have our hands full. We are extremely selective when it comes to choosing varieties, packaging and markets. If a customer does not understand that our strategy requires a different approach and a higher effort, we discourage them from starting a common project. At Fruit Attraction we met many potential customers, but we do not benefit from a customer that wants a few truck loads at a low price. We are looking for partners for the long term, ones who we can provide high quality citrus with from our own brands even during periods of shortage. For us that is the only way and fortunately our vendors and customers understand that!”

For more information:
Cristina Company
Grupo Tollupol
T: +34 962616300
M: +34 667375606


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