The past few years have been tough for Bonnysa and for Spanish tomato producers in general. The Mutxamel-based company has just completed a radical overhaul of its commercial strategy against a backdrop of sliding competitiveness within the Spanish industry.
A study carried out by the European Commission reveals that the price of Spanish-grown tomatoes lags behind that of other EU producers. A number of reasons have been suggested for the trend.
“We’re seeing a growing preference among consumers for locally-sourced products, even though their price might be higher than the market average,” president Jorge Brotons tells Fruitnet.
“At the same time there is a greater overlap between Spain’s productive cycle and those of the Netherlands and Morocco in particular and this leads to peaks of oversupply which force down prices. This shows a lack of foresight from the Moroccans but also within the Spanish industry.”
Agricultural unions have long argued that internal competition and poor organisation within the sector is undermining Spain’s position in the European market. One solution, says Andrés Góngora of Coag-Almería, is for growers establish more producer organisations to strengthen their bargaining position. “Instead of negotiating a sales price as they do in other parts of Europe, in Almería we wait for people to come to us,” he says.
Brotons agrees that there is much that Spain can do to help itself, starting by increasing investment in greenhouse infrastructure to ensure a continuous, uniform supply of high quality tomatoes.
“We need to follow a similar production model to that used in the rest of Europe, using greenhouses with adequate climate control provided by cogeneration systems that produce heat and electricity at the same time,” he says.
“This would put us on a more solid, competitive footing and mean we could offer a better service to the supermarkets. There’s no point in producing unless you have an agreed programme because this simply leads to price imbalances.”
With competition coming not just from Morocco, the Netherlands and France but also, increasingly, countries like Poland and Turkey, Spanish growers must to up their game by offering innovative products and premium quality. Although easy to say, this in fact takes a lot of work and a high degree of professionalism, says Brotons.
Mother Nature dealt producers a severe blow last season, putting production cycles out of kilter and throwing the market into chaos. In Bonnysa’s case the problem was compounded by the radical overhaul of its entire corporate structure and commercial strategy following the earlier termination of its ten-year partnership with Mercadona.
“Essentially we have gone back to being what we were 17 years ago, but better, with new product lines and new revenue streams,” he says.
This season, the company is faring much better even though growing conditions were somewhat wetter and colder than normal during the winter, and the company is back on an even keel.
“We are where we wanted to be, with our focus on three key areas: the first is our own production of tomatoes, courgettes, pomegranates, bananas and papayas which, with the exception of bananas, is almost exclusively destined for the export market; the second is the provision of ripening services for imported tropical fruit and thirdly the manufacture of fresh-cut and processed lines,” he explains.