French stonefruit exporters are struggling to compete with rising competition from Spain on the European market as production costs continue to increase in France.
According to the French association Familles Rurales, which tracks fruit and veg prices, the average price of peaches and nectarines has risen by 17 per cent to 3.30€/kg in the past year.
Speaking at the Medfel trade show in Perpignan, François Bes, director of the Saveur des Clos cooperative, bemoaned the high cost of labour in France – something that particularly affects the labour-intensive stonefruit sector.
The minimum wage in France rose to €10,03 an hour in January 2019, significantly more than the Spanish baseline of €7.04.
These high labour costs, coupled with high taxes on everything from business to social security, have forced many producers to focus their efforts on the domestic market where consumers are generally prepared to pay higher prices for French-grown fruit and vegetables.
Whereas in Spain the focus is on producing large volumes at low prices, in France growers are focused on adding value to their products, delivering high eating quality and increasing agoecological and low-pesticide production.
“The only way we can try to bring prices down and compete on European markets is by improving our productivity, but scaling up production and achieving economies of scale is difficult because labour costs are so high,” he said.
Bes believes there are still export opportunities for French producers at high-end European retailers where consumers are prepared to pay more for large, super-sweet stonefruit in premium packaging, but he said the markets for such products are only “very small”.
The cooperative currently exports in small volumes to Belgium and Germany, where it supplies Edeka.