Demand for organic vegetables has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. That is according to Johan Vanhaeren of Belgian organic wholesaler BioVibe. "During the pandemic, our sales rose by about 50%, but that demand's now subsided slightly."
Some products could do with a bit more demand, he says. "The carrot, leek, and onion markets are currently overcrowded. There are quite substantial supplies of these vegetables, but demand is somewhat lagging. In May and June, lettuces and spinach were in the same boat. Fortunately, these markets have regained their balance. Apple, pear, potato, and pumpkin volumes are also gradually climbing considerably, so supply remains plentiful."
Sales have, however, not halted. "On the contrary, our sales have been quite good this summer. Some retailers and traders, which we normally supply, were closed. Nevertheless, we can't complain about the last few weeks' trade," says Johan. He considers the high energy prices a hurdle for consumers when deciding on organic products. "They then automatically consider their finances rather than origin, which leads to them choosing the cheaper, mainstream products."
Prices are, thus, on par with those of previous years. "They're perhaps even a little lower, which, of course, shouldn't be possible. Growers have huge costs due to higher energy, labor, and fertilizer costs. Because of the recent dry weather, they've also had to irrigate more. Yet, prices remain the same. Growers sometimes supply both conventional and organic produce at just about cost price, so these are hard times for them," explains Johan.
BioVibe buys all of its fruit and vegetables from local growers. "We work almost exclusively with Belgian growers, sometimes supplementing with Dutch produce. And if we still can't get it, that's it. We're not going to start importing. We, therefore, work with seasonal products, but, these days, thanks to improved storage techniques, we have items like Belgian apples and onions available almost year-round," Johan concludes.