Will Dutch onion prices reach the one-euro mark? That was a popular question at Fruit Logistica in Berlin. According to Wim Waterman of Waterman Onions, it is not an impossibility. "Gas prices being what they are, mean there's a price ceiling these days. Not for onions, though. I think there's definitely room for a further increase. Though it offers more room for competition, it's certainly not impossible."
"Comparisons are often drawn between years, but those often miss the mark. Every year is special and unique. There are, however, far fewer onions this year. They’re not running out and won't run out; we just have to distribute the flow slightly over the season and with customers. That makes this season especially unique. We're used to doing a lot for little; now we're doing a little for a lot. That takes some getting used to, and not every grader can build up a stock. You have to have the clients. If you're at an exporter's mercy, that's much harder," says Wim.
"Most current exports are focused on Europe. The distant destinations aren't dropping out; they're just stepping back. Quality-wise, we're managing. It's not great, but it's acceptably in line with the season." Wim does not believe certain developing countries drop out when prices are high. "That doesn't apply to African or other countries around the equator. Onions are such a staple; people keep eating them, regardless, just in somewhat lower volumes. Even in the Philippines, where they sell for outlandishly high prices, onions are still eaten. Only now, consumers cook with slightly smaller ones," he says.
"The new southern hemisphere crops are taking some pressure off the export market. There are already, for example, American onions in the Caribbean. Import volumes probably won't be much higher than usual. We're obviously trying to get more imported onions, but you don't yet get many commitments. Overseas growers, too, have high expectations. There are otherwise quite a few onions offered at the fair. People are reluctant to agree on volumes and prices. It's not only about prices but also about the tonnage associated with those. Nevertheless, I expect enough imported onions to come this way in May and June."
While yellow onion prices are skyrocketing this year, those of red onions are still reasonable. "Red onions have their own suppliers and customers. Clients aren't exchanging yellow onions for red or vice versa. Red onions follow their own path and are selling for decent prices this year, too," Wim explains. This year's organic onion market is trickier. "Organic onions are struggling because of the current economic situation. That share won't overtake conventional onions' share either. There's not enough agricultural land for that. Leaning too far towards organic would put our food supply at risk; those yields are nowhere near what conventional onion production achieves. But despite that, the organic share is growing."
More and more companies are coming under the Waterman banner that already includes Biesheuvel Garlic, Bioqrops, Jawa Food, Sawari Fresh International, and Roussel Onions. "We're moving out a little wider, and we like that. There are, naturally, ups and downs, and I sometimes think, 'can't I just stick to onions?’ But at other times, it's great to have such a wide product range. The spread gives us a broad foundation, so we're not solely dependent on onions anymore. That does give us a bit more peace of mind," Wim concludes.
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