Q&A: Morocco "coming back to Europe", says Les Domaines Export
Accounting for the majority of Morocco's Nadorcott exports to the U.K. and a rapidly growing market share in tomato shipments to the Netherlands, Les Domaines Export exhibited at the Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference last week. Fresh Fruit Portal caught up with deputy director general Amine Mamou who discussed tomato and citrus exports, as well as the importance of varietal trends in both categories.
During your presentation at the Thought Leaders Breakfast Panel this morning you gave us a glimpse of how your business was developing, and it seems there is much to tell about the Moroccan citrus story and the Moroccan tomato story. Which would you like to start with first?
I can start with the tomato story that has been very successful over the last 10 years I would say. Actually Morocco is shipping half a million (metric) tons per year and the idea is very simple. As Mexico is to the United States, so we could be to Europe, in the sense that during the wintertime we are able to provide what is missing in local production, allowing retailers to deliver to consumers what they need.
We are two or three days away from France and Germany by truck. If you add that to a tasty and high-quality fruit, it has been great for everyone; for Morocco and of course for the retailers.
And if we go on with the Mexican analogy, in Mexico a lot of the farms are under protected horticulture, greenhouses or tunnels. Is it something similar in Morocco?
It’s exactly the same, like for all the tomato and every vegetable that is exported to Europe are under greenhouses. The reason is simple – we have moderate weather but still, in winter it’s relatively cold so you need greenhouses to be able to produce.
Is that all concentrated in one area?
The vegetable part is really concentrated in Agadir and in Dakhla in the extreme south where actually we have more of the nicest weather. But if we talk about citrus it’s really from the north to the south. But if we talk about citrus it’s really from the north to the south.
And speaking of tomatoes it used to be a fairly generic category but now it is so diverse, as illustrated by all the shapes and sizes of your tomatoes during the breakfast today. On that note, what are you seeing in some of the varietal trends in the Moroccan tomato space?
Actually there is a fundamental trend going on in Morocco which is that business is switching at a good pace from the generic round tomato to what we call segmentation, so it started with the cherry tomato, at the same time as tomato on the vine, but the trend we’re seeing more of now is the very aggressive growth of the cherry plum tomato because it has the advantage of having even more taste. And its texture and shape are also growing in consumption because people are eating more and more this type of tomato for snacking which was not the case before.
And how many of your tomatoes go to continental Europe versus the U.K.?
I don’t have the numbers with me but definitely there are more and more tomatoes going to continental Europe than the U.K. because of simple population statistics – if you look France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, you are well ahead in terms of population than the U.K.
Having said that, the U.K. is a very interesting market for Morocco because the U.K. for me is one of the more advanced markets produce-wise. There is much more importance given to quality and traceability at the expensive of price, price, price. That allows Morocco to position itself at a higher quality positioning, especially in the wintertime.
And what about exports to markets outside the European Union?
Outside Europe we have North America, which is actually first. When I talk about North America I’m talking about Canada and the East Coast of the United States, where we are actually very competitive in terms of logistics to reach these markets versus California, which is very counterintuitive.
A truck that would travel from California to New York will cost much more money than a boat that will go from Morocco to New York, so that’s something very important to keep in mind. Another market that’s very important for us is Russia – we’re actually the Moroccan origin and the Moroccan clementine and tomato enjoy a long-term heritage and connection with the brand, so that’s an important market for us.
Wonderful. So if we move on to the citrus story, I guess there are similar trends in varietal shifts. It used to be an industry that was mostly Navels but now everyone's moving to easy peelers. And then if we speak about Nadorcott, that’s originally from Morocco so there must be an emotional connection too.
Absolutely. You’re completely right – there are three steps. In Navel oranges people started to move from this to clementines during the winter, and with the Nadorcott the season became from October to April. 10 years ago you could not find any quality easy peelers during the February time. Now with the Nadorcotts we are able to start with clementines in mid-October, and then go to the Nadorcotts. So it’s a long season.
Year-on-year Nadorcott is growing 15-20% per year, and it’s limited by the supply.
We have been very successful in what we call faraway markets – Russia, Canada, USA – but now we are trying to come back to Europe, because whatever we do Europe is the biggest market, so we are coming back very successfully to the U.K. and now trying to come back successfully to France and Germany.
Aside from Nadorcott, are there any other varieties that are catching your attention?
Absolutely. We as a company, as the inventors of Nadorcott, are working on new varieties that are going to go even longer. Nadorcott is such a superior easy peeler in terms of being a retailer favorite as it has a shiny color on the shelf, but it also has a long shelf life so there’s very little waste and very few losses.
The idea is to take this jewel and extend it late and early in the season. We now have several varieties we are trying to test that are going to extend the season.
Do they have names yet?
No, it’s just codes now under trademarks.
And are they protected in the European Union?
They are being protected. They’re going to be protected worldwide.
That's good to know. Intellectual property is such a big deal in citrus, as we’ve seen in the disputes between Nadorcott and Tango.
Absolutely yes, we have learned a lot from the Nadorcott case and we are making sure any new variety has full worldwide protection. You have to know that Nadorcott was one of the early pioneers in produce trademarks.