One of Europe’s leading horticultural companies has acquired a major California strawberry nursery, in the latest of a series of developments as it undergoes rapid global expansion.
Spain-headquartered Planasa, a berry-focused entity with operations in nurseries, breeding and fruit production, last week completed the purchase of Red Bluff-based NorCal Nursery.
NorCal is a fourth-generation business established by the Sakuma family, and has more than 85 years’ experience.
The acquisition adds to Planasa’s California footprint in the strawberry industry, having established its own nursery in 2011 which company president Alexandre Pierron-Darbonne said was the third-largest in the state.
He believed combined sales volume from the two companies would constitute the largest strawberry nursery in the U.S.
“NorCal is an historic company which has a very good team, and good materials. Our idea is to modernize it and help it to grow in the market,” he told Fresh Fruit Portal.
The company produces strawberry plants of both public and proprietary varieties, he said.
Planasa California, a nursery with its own breeding program is now in its sixth season of strawberry plant production.
Pierron-Darbonne explained the company first entered the region as it had wanted to inject some ‘fresh air’ into the Golden State’s California strawberry nursery industry.
“There were a lot of big companies but using somewhat outdated technology, and we have introduced the best technologies for plant production and really improved the quality of the plants that are sold in the market,” he said.
“Thanks to this we have had very significant growth in the market.”
Planasa is also starting up production of its proprietary raspberry varieties in China, following a recent partnership with local company Yunnan Meiming Agricultural.
A nursery has now been established in the south of the country, with the Adelita variety set to be grown for the local market.
Pierron-Darbonne said while raspberries were still relatively unknown in China – especially compared to strawberries and blueberries – the fruit fetched high prices.
“We have 10 hectares of raspberry production, and we are going to expand and modernize in the coming years,” he said.
“China has a lot of potential but it’s a country with a different culture and a different way of doing business, so we will have to learn.”
Another major recent development has been the establishment of a new nursery subsidiary in the Netherlands, which was created this year in a bid to expand further into the northern European market.
The subsidiary adds to Planasa’s operations in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Morocco, Chile, Mexico and the U.S.
Nurseries have been established in all of the countries, with some also carrying out breeding research and fruit production.
Alongside the acquisitions and expansions, Planasa has also been investing heavily in hydroponically-grown strawberry plant production in Mexico and Morocco, with 10 hectares now under operation in each country.
The main benefit of the hydroponic growing method was that it produced high-quality and healthy plants, according to Pierron-Darbonne.
Some of the strawberry varieties Planasa has developed over the years include Sabrosa-Candonga, Sabrina and Darselect, while raspberry varieties include Adelita and Lupita.
“Sabrosa-Candonga and Sabrina are two leading varieties in Europe, and in Mexico we are developing a new variety which is called 0949 and is behaving very well,” Pierron-Darbonne said.
“Our Adelita raspberry variety is very well-known and is an industry leader in Spain, Mexico and Morocco.”
The company is also developing new blueberry and blackberry varieties, with trials set to kick off at various locations across Europe and the U.S. in 2018.
Pierron-Darbonne highlighted that while the company has been growing year-to-year in its more than four decades of operation, there has been “intense” growth over the last three or four years.
This growth is clearly reflected in Planasa’s sales revenue, which according to the company has shot up from €59.2 million (US$65 million) in 2013 to €106.3 million (US$114 million) in 2016.
The number of people employed directly through the company has also doubled to a little over 2,000 in the last three years.
Possible blueberry oversupply in Europe
As for this year’s Spanish berry season, the representative said there was likely to be a blueberry oversupply situation in the European market as demand fails to keep up with the high levels of production in the Mediterranean country.
“There’s been a huge amount of growth, but this year it seems that production has been such that we find ourselves in a situation of oversupply compared with demand,” he said.
He described the strawberry campaign as relatively ‘benign’ compared with other years, partly because of an increasing trend of European countries developing their own production which has resulted in Spanish exports remaining flat, he added.
In terms of the blackberry industry, Pierron-Darbonne said there had been very little activity due to the lack of availability of new varieties that were well adapted to the Spanish climate. However, he said Planasa was working to change that.
Meanwhile, he said the raspberry sector had been thriving thanks largely to new genetics like Adelita which had good shelf-life and could supply the European market during the winter months.
“Raspberries, along with strawberries, are traditional berries in Europe. Everyone knows them,” he said.
“The raspberry supply has grown a lot in recent years, and so far without any problems. In 10 years it will surely double.”
Photos: Courtesy of Planasa