“What we certainly must not do is wipe our customers off”

Tholen – How does the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine affect the sale of strawberries from the Coöperatie Hoogstraten? In the April issue of the trade magazine Primeur, the marketing manager addressed this issue, among other things. Read the interview below.

Because Belgian strawberries remain mainly in northwestern Europe – “Apart from Spanish imports in winter, the north-western European countries are mainly tied to local strawberry production” – the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine only affects the sale of strawberries via Hoogstraten to a limited extent, says Jan. “It is rather the side effects such as the high energy prices that play a role.”

For example, the marketing manager says that the lighted cultivation has been challenging last winter, where a balance has to be found. ‘The growers who have invested in it must also get their return on it. How far can one go to phase out the lit cultivation, in order to be able to rebuild it in the long run? Should we act in the short term, or should we take the future into account? We try to find a middle ground that is acceptable to the grower and the trader. What we absolutely must not do is wipe our customers off. ”

Jan at Fruit Logistica 2022

How does the consumer react?
However, it is clear that costs will increase in any case, and it is a factor that Hoogstraten, in imitation of its suppliers, makes this a point of discussion with its customers. Jan notes that about 85 percent of the strawberries marketed via Hoogstraten go over the clock. “It has its value, because it is a product that can fluctuate enormously from day to day. Clock prices have become a benchmark in the market. I think if that reference were to fall, we could be in a downward price spiral. “

However, he points out that in recent years, work has been done to find more permanent partners and be less dependent on the spot market, which gives the organization security. It does not change the fact that there are of course limits to the extent to which costs can be passed on, says Jan. “You can not make the product infinitely more expensive. The cost increases affect the beginning of the chain, but this one slowly seeps through to the end of the chain: the consumer. Consumers are seeing increases on all fronts: on the shelf, in their energy bill, in the entertainment, you name it. It’s going to be a challenge for some consumers, and I’m excited about how they’ll relate to food. “

Despite the recent challenges – “if you look back in time, we have had a lot already” – Jan is optimistic about the market. “We are still on the right side of the business because we produce food; We must all eat, whether we have corona or are at war. It is a good idea that we can contribute to that. ”

He also sees a robust sector. “The Belgians adapt well, and people do not give up at the retail level either. There is still further innovation. “In addition, Jan points out that the merger with REO Veiling is also positive.” With a very positive attitude, we are working together to bring this to a successful conclusion. “

Focus on specialization
One of the positive developments that the marketing manager mentions is, for example, that trade with the UK has become more complex as a result of Brexit, but it certainly offers opportunities as well. “It’s harder to trade as there are a lot of extra steps to take to get the product to the UK. But things that are difficult are often more lucrative.”

Jan notes that trade in the UK requires more and more specific knowledge. “Specialism is really a key word here. ″ An aspect that fits well with Hoogstraten, which over time has also specialized in the categories of tomato and pepper in addition to strawberries. “We only have three major product groups and have grown enormously over time in area, which has meant we have been able to expand that specialty.”

A focus reflected in the Fourth Strawberry Congress hosted by Hoogstraten. “There we bring science and business into contact with each other. This has resulted in innovations over time. We try to match the development in cultivation and marketing & sales. For a product like strawberries, for example, we bring together 350 professionals to brainstorm. “

These developments are, among other things, within new varieties, where Hoogstraten focuses on variety and cultivation technical research. “Taste, presentation, durability and production are important aspects when evaluating a new variety.”

If a variety is discovered that could be a competitor in the market, it is supported by Hoogstraten. “Such a variety is sold with a certain guarantee to the breeder to give the variety a chance to be launched. It is usually limited in time, but long enough to give it a try, Jan concludes.

This article was previously published in Issue 4, Volume 36 of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl.

For more information:
Jan Engelen
Hoogstraten cooperative

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