Belgian fruit and vegetable cooperative BelOrta has notched a 7% year-on-year rise in turnover for 2017, reaching a record level of €439 million (US$537 million).
The result is particularly promising given the volume sold was only up by 2.5% at 654 million units, with some products doing well and others achieving weaker results.
The group looked back on the extreme weather conditions of January, 2017 in Italy and Spain, leading to shortages in many lettuce types as well as aubergines (eggplant) and zucchini. This scarcity had an impact on the market.
Tomatoes continued to be the cooperative’s leading crop with around 150,000 metric tons (MT) of production, and while the average result achieved was slightly better year-on-year, the average price was also influenced by increasing acreage under cultivation.
With 135 million pieces sold, cucumber came in second place in terms of volume, with a “very difficult” 2017 for pricing after what BelOrta reports as a few better years.
“This is mainly due to the fact that more than enough product was available throughout Europe throughout the year,” the group said.
Cabbage and lettuce varieties rounded out the top three with a volume of 65 million pieces. Other major products include peppers, chicory, zucchini and aubergine, but with more than 120 vegetable types BelOrta growers offer a very wide range.
Mixed fates for fruit
BelOrta emphasized that despite a difficult growing season, with frosts in April and a drought in June and July, pear volume increased to 70,000MT, representing year-on-year growth of 15% due to expansions made in late 2016.
The cooperative had also increased its acreage in apples but a “catastrophic” frost meant growers only harvested a quarter of normal production volume last fall.
BelOrta said this meant the annual apple volume was just 42,000MT, and while the average price is higher in 2017-18, “of course you don’t care too much if you have a fraction of normal production”.
The group’s strawberry production surpassed 10,000MT for the first time, representing a 12% rise. Other berries also saw an increase in production except for fruits affected by the frost, such as gooseberries and blueberries. Cherry production figures were also “very low”.
Branding and export expansion
The cooperative undertook a comprehensive marketing campaign for the second year running in the Belgian market, leading to a brand awareness of 43% amongst the country’s consumers.
BelOrta exported its products to 70 countries worldwide last year, and while the Russian ban still has an “undeniably heavy impact on sales” for pome fruit, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, the group is working on developing new markets “on a permanent basis”.
The group highlighted developments with Indian partners last year, emphasizing the Indian sub-continent represents potential not only for pome fruit exports but also shipments of vegetables and soft fruit.
In November, BelOrta signed an important trade agreement with Indian partners in this context, whereby the export possibilities for the coming years were secured, for hard fruit, but also for vegetables and soft fruit.
Work also continues to open up new marketing programs in Europe and the Middle East, and even North and South America.