More than 4,000 visitors attended the fifth annual Freskon trade fair in April, organised by TIF-Helexpo and held in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece.
The event has become an established meeting point for regional fruit and vegetable producers and transporters, as well as entrepreneurs in post-harvest, with 215 companies exhibiting from 16 countries: Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Argentina, Bulgaria, Italy, India, the Netherlands, the UAE, Syria, Spain, Denmark and Germany.
This year’s edition featured FreshCon Market, which facilitated hundreds of B2B meetings, and the first Digital Greece initiative, which saw 13 start-ups presenting their technological proposals tailored to the agricultural sector.
The International Peach Congress was also held during the exhibition, in collaboration with Froutonea Magazine, with experts outlining the production, trade and consumption of peaches both in Europe and globally, and stressing the need for reorganising production, renewing orchards and introducing machines.
Below we take a glance at some of this year’s exhibitors:
Frueat, a trader based in Skydra in northern Greece, sees an opportunity for red kiwifruit production in the country. “No one has it in Greece,” said Athanasios Moudiris. “It is very sweet, with a Brix of 23 compared with the green Hayward’s Brix of 14. We grow green kiwifruit and buy golden, but we would like to start growing red.”
The company started exporting its kiwifruit, apples and stonefruit five years ago, beginning in eastern Europe. Now Frueat is expanding in western Europe. “Our priority is to be the best in quality, so we are trying to get into markets like the UK, Sweden and Finland,” says Moudiris.
This year, Greek exporter Natali started selling its kiwifruit to Morocco. “North Africa is a very interesting market at the moment,” said Dimitrios. “Asia is also interesting, as are the US and Canada. But the main difficulty is the storage time, which means we have to sell our kiwifruit volumes by May. With New Zealand on the market until the end of January this year, selling at very good prices, it has made for a tough season.”
The situation for Greek peach and nectarine exporters has remained precarious ever since the introduction of the Russian ban, with volumes diverted to Europe and other alternative markets lowering prices. “We used to send 90 per cent to the Russian market, so the last few years have been difficult,” said Thanos Economou of cooperative ACN Naoussa. “We have tried alternative markets like Egypt and the Gulf, but there really is no substitute for Russia. We are also concerned about Brexit. Much depends on the volume from Spain, which sends large volumes to the UK. What it can’t sell to the UK, it will sell elsewhere, so we hope a reasonable agreement can be reached.”
With the Russian embargo still in place, Greek strawberries are mostly sold domestically on the open markets, as well as exported to eastern European countries like Romania. “For years after the Russian ban, we tried to reorient our volumes to northwest Europe, but the situation has affected the whole market,” said Christos Kolotouros of exporter Taktikos. “And good weather in Spain led to big volumes on the market, so there has been a lot of pressure on prices, which are around 60-70 per cent lower than last year.”
Alert to the potential length of the ban, Taktikos was quick to switch from varieties like Camorosa, which is the main one for Russia, to Fortuna, Rosiera and Victoria. “We are now quite balanced in terms of the countries we sell to,” said Kolotouros. “The supermarkets we supply are also interested in other berries, but we are currently focused on strawberries, which we have produced for 40 years. But we don’t exclude the possibility in the future.”
This year, kiwifruit exporter Proto employed a new agronomist in order to improve farming practices and to improve the information the company receives. “Since kiwifruit production is set to keep increasing, we want to ensure we have the maximum packout of high quality, class one fruit,” said George Kallitsis. “In the coming years, we think sales of kiwifruit will become more difficult. Total Northern Hemisphere production will increase, but demand is hard to grow. The golden variety is driving some growth, which is why everyone is excited about it. We hear Italy is reducing production of green in order to grow golden, which will also help Greek growers. At Proto we are doing some trials with Zespri to grow G3, which is a golden variety.”
Exporter Mitrosilis is in the process of building new facilities as the company continues to grow its volumes of various fruits. Now in its fourth season of kiwifruit, Mitrosilis currently produces around 3,000 tonnes and is investing to boost its storage capacity to 5,000 tonnes. “This year, we will be starting with watermelon exports to Europe,” said Christos Mitrosilis. “It has been a good winter for stonefruit, with good chilling hours to help the blooming, so we expect a good season. We also have good hopes for grapes, but the weather is very unpredictable. We had lots of rain earlier in the year, so there are no water shortages, especially in areas like Corinth and Crete. In general we look to the future with confidence.”
Machinery manufacturer Olimpias appeared at Freskon with a sorting machine for round fruits, capable of handling apples, citrus, tomatoes and stonefruit. “We sell 15 of these machines every year in Greece,” said Giorgos Pavlopoulos. “This one sorts by weight, which is necessary for all exports, but we construct machines according to the specifications of our customers. If they need the machine for washing or cleaning the fruit, we can do that. If they need a line to peel and cut the product, we can do that. The important thing is not to damage the product. These machines also allow a company to save on labour costs. After two to three years, the cost of the machine has been paid off.”
Potato exporter Politis is currently looking to increase its volumes to Romania and Poland, while also expanding to new markets. “We want to go step by step,” said John Rozakis. “It takes time and isn’t easy. It is one thing to sell, but then you need to guarantee you receive the payment. In some regions the situation is difficult so you have to be careful. At the moment, we are looking at Dubai and Kuwait, which would be two new markets for us. We are evaluating the opportunities. The foodservice sector demands very high quality, and there are some customers that require airfreighted produce, so we will consider this. You have to cater to the needs of the customer and be sure you can provide it.”
The Kavala Cooperative’s 350 growers produce around 11,000-12,000 tonnes of kiwifruit each year, exporting the entire harvest, mainly to Spain, France and Poland. “We also send to Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Bulgaria, but mostly for second-class fruit,” said Maria Anastasiadou. “Poland has been growing a lot.”
According to Anastasiadou, kiwifruit production in Greece is increasing rapidly, currently surpassing 200,000 tonnes. “There will be big competition, especially since our warehouses are insufficient for the quantity produced in the country,” she said. “With the financial crisis, it’s not easy to invest in coldstorage. The banks are not offering money and there are no current programmes from the EU. Daily life remains difficult.”
Regarding varieties, Kavala looks set to continue its focus on the traditional Hayward. “We only do Hayward,” said Anastasiadou. “A lot of Greeks are looking to switch to the golden, while the Italians are looking at red, but it is our philosophy to continue with the green. If you pick it at the right time, it’s extremely sweet, with a Brix of 13-14, so why should we look for alternatives?”
Alfa Vita has added a new product to its range, with the launch of Black Mission figs, according to Chatsios Anastasios. “This is new for Greece,” he said. “We are producing between August and September in the north of the country, near Thessaloniki. Last year, we did some volumes on the domestic market, and this year we want to export in Europe.”
As for kiwifruit, the company has seen good sales to the US, South Africa and the Gulf in the last few years, while a recent protocol with Argentina and progress on a deal with Brazil are boosting interest in Latin America. “We believe Argentina will absorb a large quantity,” said Anastasios. “They know the fruit and consume a lot, importing mainly from New Zealand, South Africa and Italy. Our production is increasing so we need more markets. It might also open up the market for more products in the future.”