Growing demand for high-quality products from an expanding and increasingly affluent global population is set to place greater pressure on farmland and resources during the next few years, presenting the fresh produce sector with a valuable opportunity to boost productivity through investment and seize greater control of the supply chain.
That's the view of Hein Deprez, CEO of Univeg, who told delegates at last week's FRESH2008 in Antwerp, Belgium, how the company is responding to major international trends by developing closer ties with fresh fruit and vegetable producers worldwide.
"Large retail organisations in mature markets will be confronted with a situation where the price demands they make will no longer be met," said Mr Deprez, who was speaking at a major international fresh produce conference for the first time. "Producers will have alternative marketing channels that pay a fixed price. Traditional sales markets in western Europe and North America will be confronted increasingly with product uncertainty."
Chris Mack, chairman of leading UK importer Fresca Group, said he felt the time had come for retailers to change their policy on price. "We have reached a situation in the UK where prices have to increase. I don't think I have ever experienced product price inflation, so maybe now is the time to make up for 20 years of price stagnation," he argued.
Sustainability was a key theme of this year's event, with a number of speakers considering the potential challenges to the trade from climate change, economic developments and continued pressure to be more socially and environmentally responsible.
Stuart Orr of conservation group WWF warned that water shortages could pose a bigger threat in the next few years. Meanwhile, Manfred Krautter of environmental lobby group Greenpeace Germany told delegates that the European fresh produce sector had begun to take more positive action on the thorny issue of pesticide residues, but said there was still work to be done on reducing the impact of banned substances.
More than 200 delegates from 27 countries attended FRESH2008, the leading annual conference and networking event for the European fresh produce trade, which took place on 21-23 May 2008 at the Hilton Hotel in Antwerp.