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Helien Verhagen, East4Fresh

"We want to focus more on color and flavor diversity with our Portuguese sweet potatoes"

You will not hear East4Fresh's Helien Verhagen complain. "We hear plenty of market noises about struggling sweet potato sales," she begins, "and that inflation's hitting organic sales hard. I genuinely don't understand this negative tone; we're doing insanely well. We're growing by 25% annually and even want to double our organic planting in Portugal next year."

"Until 2010, we used to import a lot of products from Asia. But we stopped. You can grow all those far-away products just fine in Europe. Take our sweet potatoes; we grow them and have them on our customers' doorsteps in Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia within days of harvest. We're far more directly involved in the cultivation too, and can, thus, guarantee food safety," says Helien.

East4Fresh's sweet potato - especially the organic varieties -  cultivation in Portugal is going well. That is why the company is to expand its organic crop by 30 hectares next year, in addition to the 160 hectares it already has in Portugal.

"These days, other organic countries are leaving the market. We want to lengthen the Portuguese season to June. We keep trying to extend the European season. In the summer, we're still forced to import sweet potatoes from South Africa. But we begin the season in late September already."

"That's with common sweet potatoes from Portugal. Organics follow that in mid-November. We have access to a wonderful crop this year. Water shortages are still challenging in Portugal, but there was plenty of rain last month, and we have lots of water at our disposal," explains Helien.

This company mainly grows the Bellevue variety. But East4Fresh is working hard on developing the white Murasaki and new purple sweet potato varieties. "The white sweet potato excels in every taste test. It's just that Europeans have to learn to eat these. That will come naturally. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes have become commonplace; now it's time to focus more on color and flavor diversity. Then, it's vital to not immediately flood the market, but find the true areas of need."

East4Fresh wants to add other products, like pumpkin and bok choy, to sweet potatoes in its Portuguese assortment. "We've contracted with an Asian chain in Portugal that we'll supply from field to fork. I like that retailers think carefully about their promotions to keep the throughput up," Verhagen continues.

"For example, last week, we had a bok choy promotion, something unimaginable in the past during New Year's week. I do, however, think retailers' organic products are too pricey. Were they offered more cheaply, organic purchases would become far more accessible to many consumers."

Beginning to process their Portuguese products' residual streams is a point of action for 2023. "We have plenty of ideas to process this into powders, flours, and purees as ingredients for things like smoothies, soup, and gluten-free bread. We can, thus, minimize food waste and operate at an unprecedented level of sustainability," Helien concludes.

For more information:
Helien Verhagen
East4Fresh / Color2Food
Tel: +31 (0) 174 535 353
Mob: +31 (0) 683 244 661
Email: helien@east4fresh.nl  
Website: www.east4fresh.nl


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