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Pleun van Malkenhorst, Thanet Earth Peppers Ltd / Thanet Growers:

"Growing demand from British retailers for lit cultivation"

Last week, Thanet Earth in Chichester celebrated its inaugural lettuce harvest. "The decision to venture into lettuce production and expand Thanet Earth's product portfolio with a fourth proprietary crop group is definitely strategic. It's a logical extension of what we do and a great first step in that direction. Growing leafy greens is new territory for us, but as the saying goes, you're never too old to learn," shares Pleun van Malkenhorst, Managing Director of Thanet Earth Peppers Ltd and Thanet Growers. "The first lettuce harvest is now complete, and it's been fascinating to witness the growth process up close. Naturally, it's quite different from what we're accustomed to, but it's been an exciting endeavor. Market feedback suggests there are excellent opportunities for us to fully embrace this segment."

Consumption increase as market shifts to domestic production
"As is the case in the Netherlands, we've also experienced significantly less sunlight here in the UK compared to last year, with a difference of about 18,000 joules up until week 17. This posed a challenge for the unlit crops. Nonetheless, cucumber productions have been excellent, and pepper plant loads are on par. We're hopeful that the weather, in conjunction with natural light, will soon improve, allowing the crops to find a balance and rhythm. The fruit quality, moreover, is outstanding. It's always rewarding to transition from Mediterranean imports to domestic production after a long winter. You immediately notice a spike in consumption. The three retailers excelling in fruits and vegetables are also major clients of Thanet Earth," Pleun explains.

Shifts in the British greenhouse acreage have remained minimal, according to him. "A few greenhouses have been constructed over the past years, but estimates also suggest a slight decline in acreage. These are primarily older structures with lower yields per square meter, hence the net output has gradually increased. However, estimates indicate that the lit acreage has returned to its pre-energy crisis levels, perhaps as much as 90%. We've observed growing demand from British retailers for lit production as gas costs have decreased or stabilized over the past twelve months, making it more appealing. This winter, we conducted trials with lit production for Tesco, the first of its kind in several years. It was an experiment to see if the product could achieve a higher retail price point. This will be extended into the coming winter."

A more stable winter season
When asked if British shelves were well-stocked last winter, Pleun responds: "Overall, this winter marked a significant advancement in retail availability. The climatic conditions for European and Moroccan fruit were much more stable, facilitating smoother supply to the British market. This also meant that price pressure on the product was improved and became much more stable, allowing British suppliers to maintain supply levels, impacting availability. It wasn't until late March to early April that the pepper market showed signs of strain, with limited availability and poor quality from Spain. Ramadan had a limited impact on supply due to measures to increase open-ground crops to supply domestic markets, freeing up greenhouse vegetables for export to the UK. Thanet Earth managed an average service level improvement of 12-15% throughout the season, with the overall company average around 95%."

Pleun van Malkenhorst.

The organic market, according to the Managing Director of Thanet Earth Peppers Ltd and Thanet Growers, has been on the decline over the past two years, both in volume and value. "However, organic cultivation has since undergone a period of stabilization, where the price difference between organic products and conventional ones has been navigated by consumers. It still represents a very small portion of the customer's assortment, typically offering between four and six products, ranging from tomatoes, peppers to cucumbers. Organic products lack the aesthetic appeal that conventional products offer, which continues to hinder their sales opportunities."

For more information:
Pleun van Malkenhorst
Thanet Earth
Barrow Man Road
Birchington, Kent, UK
Tel: +44 (0)7596 020606
[email protected]

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