In Europe, costs make it hard for many fruit growers to currently make ends meet. Especially for Belgian Jonagold growers, who find it almost impossible to earn a decent living in the current market. "This season's fruit looks great, but prices are terrible," begins Xavier Laduron of Fairebel, whose basic philosophy is that everyone in the whole chain should be able to make a good living. "Growers will always use fair prices to recover their costs."
Farmers fighting for fair pay introduced Fairebel, a fair dairy label, in Belgium 12 years ago. From November 2020, Belgian apples and pears, too, are sold under that label. "If the milkman succeeded, why shouldn't fruit growers? Our sector has been in dire straits for years," says Xavier, who grows top fruit on 35 hectares. By now, dozens of fruit growers have joined the Faircoop cooperative. Their apples and pears are on shelves under the Fairebel brand. The cooperative manages the 'For farmers, by farmers' brand.
Faircoop asked PCFruit to research the exact cost price of a kilo of Jonagold apples or Conference pears. "Almost no grower knows their fruit's exact cost price. This study showed that's even higher than we'd thought. Then you see Belgian supermarkets selling a kilo of these apples for €0.99. That's hard to swallow. Nobody in the chain can live off that price; it has to improve; there's no other solution."
Why are Jonagold bowing to Pink Lady?
Carrefour and Colruyt currently carry Fairebel apples and pears. "Carrefour is a partner that's introduced our new products since pretty much the beginning," explains Xavier.
"At Colruyt, however, that took some doing. We almost always initially get a negative reaction when we approach retailers. They're concerned that it will be too expensive and people won't want to pay for it."
"However, Pink Lady apples sell for €4/kg. Why does a kilo of Jonagold then cost €99? People will often say, 'That's different. It's Pink Lady.' But why do Jonagold have to bow to Pink Lady? Jonagold is still the best-known, most-sold variety in Belgium. So why not sell it for €3/kg? It has to be a collaboration," Xavier states.
He does not believe current inflation will cause consumers to abandon fruit. "First, there was the pandemic; now it's the energy crisis. There's always something. I absolutely don't want to underplay the crisis, but airplanes are still jam-packed. People are going skiing again in the winter vacation."
"Most still have enough money to buy what they want. Food remains one of the most important expenses - people will always have to eat. For many consumers then, that two euros doesn't matter that much, but for growers and everyone within the chain, it makes a world of difference," continues the grower.
Expensive marketing campaign or word-of-mouth
But a story must accompany that price, says Laduron. "Without marketing, it's impossible. Then you have two choices: either spend millions on a marketing campaign or visit the stores and tell consumers the story of local and fair. Nowadays, people are more open to a fair story; they're becoming more aware of that. We visit many stores."
"And there, I notice that 99% of shoppers don't even ask about the price. Then, through word of mouth, it can eventually explode," Xavier hopes. The product's quality is, therefore, a high priority too. "We don't just want to get nice prices; we want to deliver quality products. If consumers pay more, the product's quality should reflect that. We have to respect people."
In the future, the cooperative wants to find other product groups to include in its brand. But, for now, it is focused on top fruit. "Simply put, that still needs all our attention. Volumes are still limited, but we are meeting with every professional fruit grower in Faircoop. Two years ago, you hardly heard anyone talk about a fair price; that conversation is increasingly starting to pick up. Still, there's a world to win," Xavier concludes.