For Gert-Jan van den Heuvel, commercial director at Dutch importer VerDi, “more is not always better”. He is referring to the volume of fruit available on the European market, complaining of gluts that can make it practically impossible for a company to make any money off an item. “The biggest competitor on the market is always volume,” he tells Eurofruit.
Additional pressures arise when a producer country’s own domestic market wanes or when a key export market like Russia disappears.
“Look, for example, what happened last year during the melon season in Brazil,” says van den Heuvel. “Because of the bad internal market, due to economic problems, Brazil exported much more to Europe, more than Europe could handle. This created losses for both producers and importers. As a result, we expect importers in Europe to be looking increasingly at alternative sources.”
Grapes are a product that VerDi handles year-round and in large volumes. South Africa remains an important source for the importer, although Peru has also become a major player. “South Africa used to be earlier in the season, but the north of Peru has now become a direct competitor, particularly for red grapes,” says van den Heuvel.
Peru is currently making great progress in seedless varieties, says van den Heuvel. “In the past, Peru was mainly interested in exporting to the US, but that’s changing,” he says. “Production is rising so much in the north of Peru that the country will definitely need the European market as well.
“We can still grow on Peruvian grapes, but we need to work on it. It is a growing source, and we have to grow with it. However, South Africa has all the experience in the world, while Peru is still new, so we will need to find the right connections.”
VerDi’s strategy involves specialising in the selling side of the business, leaving producers to concentrate on what they do best.
“You shouldn’t mix the growing and the sales side,” says account manager Conrad Rijnhout. “You need to do what you’re strong at and trust others’ expertise. You need to have the right knowledge or you’re taking a big risk.”
Rijnhout agrees with van den Heuvel about the difficulty in balancing supply and demand. “What you see frequently is growers copying each other’s strategies instead of following their own,” he says. “When a product enjoys two or three good years, the result is that you have new growers starting to produce, which can create an imbalance between supply and demand.”