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Mike Knowles

BY MIKE KNOWLES

@mikefruitnet

Val Venosta builds its berry category

One of Europe's major apple suppliers is placing more emphasis on developing sales of Italian-grown soft fruit

Val Venosta builds its berry category

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While Val Venosta might be best known in the fresh produce business for its apples, it seems this pictureseque corner of north-east Italy is also developing a reputation for its berries.

With harvesting of strawberries in the Martello Valley now underway, the prospect of the area’s fresh berries attracting a dedicated following among Italian consumers appears strong, especially in a year when more of the fruit will be available.

A later and slightly larger strawberry crop is expected in the valley, thanks to a relatively cold spring followed by a sustained period of warm weather just prior to harvesting.

That contrasts markedly with the recent fortunes of strawberry producers elsewhere in Italy, who saw a notable slowdown in demand for their fruit in northern European export markets earlier this year as a result of a very mild spring in those countries. 

According to Gerhard Eberhöfer, who heads up soft fruit sales at producer association VI.P, the delayed harvest got underway in the second half of June and supply is expected to last until August.

“The cold temperatures in spring have delayed the start of the strawberry campaign,” Eberhofer confirmed. “Sales this year began in the third week of June and the outlook in terms of volumes is for a slight increase compared with last year.”

That should mean a crop in the region of 400-450 tonnes. “This growth is based on the fact that the plants did not suffer damage from cold or ice during the winter,” Eberhofer explained, noting that investments in structural crop protection now provide more of a guarantee in terms of securing supply.

“Around 40 per cent of our production is under cover and so protected from weather events, while the other 60 per cent is out in the open. With the warm temperatures in these last few weeks before the harvest, we are able to supply a perfect product.”

He added: “We are optimistic: the quality of the strawberries is good, the taste is delicious and the availability will be guaranteed.”

VI.P will market the Val Martello strawberries under its Val Venosta brand through independent retail stores as well as supermarket chains, as well as major wholesale markets in the north and central part of Italy.

Plus there could be an opportunity for category building too. “This year we have some more soft fruit – raspberries, blackberries, currants and blueberries – that grow in all their splendour in the Martello Valley, where the particular altitude slows ripening and accentuates aroma,” Eberhofer notes. “The numbers are small, but the flavour is exceptional, authentic and great quality.”

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