Despite recent poor weather, increased cost, consumer inflation, and regulatory pressures, Italy’s biggest fruit and veg producer group remains resolutely confident

Apo Conerpo Daniele Maria Ghezzi Davide Vernocchi Gabriele Chiesa

Pictured (l-r): Daniele Maria Ghezzi, Davide Vernocchi, and Gabriele Chiesa

Italy’s Apo Conerpo, which is reckoned to be Europe’s largest fruit and vegetable producer organisation, has a new general manager at the wheel as it looks to accelerate away from an especially challenging year’s trading.

Daniele Maria Ghezzi, a former university professor and head of export trade consortium Piacenza Alimentare, was appointed to lead the group’s management at its recent shareholder meeting. He takes over from Gabriele Chiesa, who has led Apo Conerpo for the last 21 years.

And with sales turnover up 1.8 per cent to €434m despite a notable 27 per cent decrease in traded volumes, Apo Conerpo certainly appears to have shown remarkable resilience. Its overall turnover was €787m, down just 2.7 per cent on 2022, while returns to growers were apparently up 50 per cent.

Challenges aplenty

The group’s adverse experience over the past 12 months reflects wider challenges seen across Italy’s entire fresh produce business.

“2023 was a particularly challenging year for our sector,” comments its president Davide Vernocchi. “From spring frosts to the floods in May, from summer drought to hailstorms, to the resurgence of serious climate-related plant diseases such as spot and bacterial disease; no crop was spared, with particularly significant effects on many of Emilia-Romagna’s major crops like pears, peaches, nectarines, cherries, tomatoes for processing, and onions.”

The international commercial landscape was a tricky one to navigate too, he says, with prices for energy and raw materials much higher, consumer inflation depressing demand, and the sourcing of labour in the fruit and vegetable sector especially difficult.

“Add to these the often questionable decisions made by Europe that have a huge impact on our agricultural companies,” Vernocchi adds.

In response, he continued, Apo Conerpo had expanded its sourcing base in Italy, seen stronger sales in its processed tomato business, and generated 13.6 per cent more value from its retail and export sales – overseen by subsidiaries Alegra, Brio, Naturitalia, Opera, and Valfrutta Fresco.