Cindy van Rijswick of Rabobank reports on the state of the industry as the Global Tomato Congress in Rotterdam gets underway

Tomato suppliers across Europe face major challenges to their long-term sustainability from continued cost inflation, climate change, and new EU policies designed to protect the environment.

That was one of the standout messages delivered to more than 300 people who attended Fruitnet’s Global Tomato Congress, which took place on 16 May at the World Trade Center in Rotterdam.

The event began with Cindy van Rijswick, global strategist for the fruit and vegetable sector at RaboResearch, offering an overview of the state of the tomato business and the challenges that it is facing in 2023.

“The are many challenges and risks facing the tomato business currently,” she told delegates in the opening session of the annual event. ”There are dark clouds hanging above us, including global conflict, costs and climate change. But there are also lots of potential solutions.”

Looking back at 2022, she noted that inflation was very much the “buzzword”, although she did note that the fruit and vegetable business had not seen the same level as other sectors.

Consumer price inflation in vegetables remained worryingly high at almost 15 per cent across the EU during the first quarter of 2023, she noted.

Farm to Fork ’must be affordable’

Even as signs of recovery begin to emerge, increasingly tough EU regulations designed to protect the environment present an even greater long-term challenge for the tomato sector.

That was certainly the view of Luc Vanoirbeek, general secretary of Belgian producer association VBT, who predicted:  “There will be no business as usual. Climate change and the drive towards environmental solutions are going to be a big challenge for growers.”

He added: “As producer organisations in Belgium, we are confronted with a tough retail business that tells us we have to do better on the environment. It’s an issue that has to keep us awake every moment and we have to search for solutions.”

But with existential threats posed by pests and diseases – especially tomato brown rugose fruit virus – there are fears that a push towards greater environmental protection could have a detrimental impact on profitability.

“We need a toolbox with plant protection products, but if you look at [proposed] European policy, it threatens to reduce that toolbox,” Vanoirbeek added.

“We support the Farm to Fork policy but as long as it’s affordable, realistic and fair.”