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Marijke Vanlangenaker, Vanlangenaker Fruit:

"There will be bigger apples, and the trade will have to explain the benefits"

The new top fruit season is fast approaching. While many traders are currently still busy with the last trade of the current season, the focus of many growers is already on next month. So too at Vanlangenaker Fruit. "That there will be less volume should no longer be a surprise, but I think we will still get a nice harvest in terms of quality. Moreover, the apples will be a lot bigger. This is not a disadvantage, but it is an aspect in which the trader and shop operator can play a big factor in making consumers aware that large apples are just as tasty as their smaller siblings," said Marijke Vanlangenaker of the family-owned company of the same name.

The company has been growing apples and pears in Velm, Flanders, since 1974. Vanlangenaker fruit now covers around 200 hectares of mainly Conference pears and Vivista apples. The Vivista is a natural mutant, discovered in the family's orchards. "But actually we prefer to call it our Vanlangenaker apple. This is because the quality of this apple really depends on where it is grown. Because of this, we don't actually see Vivista apples grown in other parts of the country as the same variety we grow here," Marijke continues. "Within our acreage, you can already see a lot of difference in it. For example, most of our plots are in Velm, where there is an ideal type of soil for growing apples and pears."

Vanlangenaker has everything in-house. From cultivation to sorting and packaging. "This is how we supply our fruit to traders and auctions here in Belgium, after which it is marketed throughout Europe and even further. The entire crop is sold under our own brand, Vanlangenaker+. So this is always fruit from our own production. We do not buy anything. This is because we only want to sell fruit that we fully support and if you only supply your own apples and pears, you have full control over the quality and taste and you know what ends up with the customer. My mother came up with the branding Vanlangenaker+ at the time, branding works both ways, the consumer recognises the product and comes back for the flavour and hardness of the apple or pear, but then you always have to make sure it's top-notch as well, otherwise it backfires."

Larger sizes of apples
For next season, despite the challenges, the entrepreneur also looks ahead with a positive feeling again. "It has obviously been a very special year of growth. In the beginning, everything looked fantastic, but due to the many hailstorms, the trees experienced a lot of stress in the following weeks, causing them to drop a lot of fruit. There are fruit growers who have been incredibly unlucky and cannot pick as much, but others are not too bad. Even within our acreage, you see big differences."

"Last year we had a lot of scab here, but also in the Netherlands, in terms of apples due to the heavy rainfall combined with the heat. We are not suffering from that this year. Everything is under control. Just kidding," Marijke laughs. "The quality is also excellent. Only the size per piece will be a bit higher than other years, because there is a bit less hanging on the trees. I don't think this is a disadvantage, because it does absolutely nothing to detract from the flavour and besides, it's just easier for families."

"After all, you can cut a big apple of size 85 or 90 nicely into segments and give them to the children. Besides, large sizes are just a bit cheaper. But everyone has to get on board. Traders and retailers have to present it and, very importantly, explain the benefits of a larger size apple."

Pear market stagnant
In pears in particular, Marijke sees a difficult end to the season. "Sales have dropped a bit in the last few months, even though quality was still top-notch. Regrettable to end like this, but we remain positive towards the new harvest. Just goes to show that in our industry, you never know exactly how things will turn out. It is not possible to think: 'Oh, it went like this last year, so this season will probably be similar'. No year is the same and to next year, it can all be different again. For the new crop, volumes seem a lot lower than other years, but much of Europe suffers from that. It will have to wait and see how things turn out, but I hope it will be done wisely."

Looking to the future, Vanlangenaker Fruit wants to continue its upward trajectory. "2021/2022 has been a difficult year for us. With the start of the conflict in Ukraine, we experienced the necessary problems here as an apple grower, apples from Eastern Europe flooded our markets. That has been an incredibly hard blow for us. Also because it was a top year in terms of quality and volumes. It's not like it used to be, but I still want to look positively to the future and hope that consumers will return to quality, less in quantity, but better in quality."

And in addition, the company has also recently started its own processing of its fruit into juices. "That actually started once when we were at a fair. We didn't want to be there just with fresh fruit, but then we decided to see if we could present some juice with it. However, it went down so well that we kept doing it. We don't really intend to do it on a large scale, but it's nice to see that people enjoy it. For instance, we have now tried it with cider made from our own apples. My grandfather already did that, and when we were able to taste the first bottle, everyone returned to that taste of the past for a moment. These are fun things to add, and we'll see where it ends up," Marijke concludes.

For more information:
Marijke Vanlangenaker
Vanlangenaker Fruit
Planterijstraat 25
3803 Gorsem, Belgium
Tel: +32(0)11694058
[email protected]

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