While some Dutch apples rot, supermarkets continue to import: ‘Farmers have their backs against the wall’

Dutch apples are currently rotting on the trees, while many apples from the other side of the globe are on the shelves. It can no longer be like this, thought Stijn Markusse. He started a campaign to sell the fresh apples from his own land.

It is a strange sight. At the Brabant grower Arjan Lambregts, some of the apples are still hanging on the tree, while the harvest season is coming to an end. In their own words, it is about 50 to 60 thousand kilos. “It hurts, I didn’t work for it. They are delicious apples. There is nothing wrong with that, only the market price is too low.”

Apples are sold too expensive

Normally, the apples can be stored in the cold houses, so that Dutch apples can be sold for almost a whole year. But energy prices are now so high that their costs do not outweigh the price they receive. “The picking already costs 15 øre per kilo. If you start to refrigerate, another 15 øre will be added. If you add together, it is better to leave them hanging,” says Lambregts.

There is no sign of that in the supermarkets now. In fact, there are also Granny Smith apples and Pink Lady apples from New Zealand and Chile. In a year’s time, on average, thirty percent of the apples will be foreign because, according to the supermarkets, ‘the consumer wants it’.

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Peasants with their backs to the wall

Stijn Markusse from Breda is an eyesore. He therefore campaigns to promote the Dutch apple. “The cause of action is anger. We really recognize the different flavors of apples not.” Markusse owns his own company, which he uses to deliver groceries from local growers.

The campaign called De Kleine Bezorgdienst started, Markusse says, with a phone call from Lambregts asking for help because he couldn’t pick his apples. “I dug into it and it made me very angry. A supermarket can simply decide to buy only Dutch apples during this period. It’s not about being able, but about wanting. They now pay a shilling per kilo, because it is possible. The farmers have their backs against the wall.”

Door to door

With De Kleine Bezorgdienst, Markusse turned his anger into something positive. With the campaign, children sell the producers’ apples at the door. “I was reminded of my own childhood selling apples and pears door to door.”

The idea is that the children first buy the apples directly from the grower and then go from door to door. To that end, Markusse works together with schools and scout groups, among others. “If we do it with 50,000 children, we are also doing something positive. They have the future. And why buy six-month-old apples from New Zealand when we have fresh apples around the corner?”

Initiator Stijn Markusse

‘Act less like a king’

Ultimately, Markusse’s aim is to make people more aware of what they buy, to encourage supermarkets to change their offerings and to enable growers to make a living. “In France, large supermarkets have just decided that they only sell French apples.” He would also like to see that scenario in the Netherlands.

The supermarkets, but also the consumers, must therefore make a far more conscious choice of seasonal products, says Markusse. “As consumers, we should act less like royalty. Albert Heijn and Lidl say the customer wants it, but that’s a worthless argument. It’s not like the customer knows the apple has driven 20,000 kilometers.”

Customers want something different

Albert Heijn, Lidl and Jumbo were all invited to answer in front of our camera, but only answered in writing. The supermarkets all say they work well with Dutch fruit growers and that they also promote Dutch apples. For example, since this summer, Albert Heijn has sold ‘only Elstar apples from the Netherlands instead of France’. Lidl does not recognize itself in the image of Dutch apples staying on the trees.

According to all three supermarkets, the reason why apples from countries such as Chile and New Zealand are still on the shelves is that their customers want them. For example, Lidl says: “Unfortunately, some combinations of bite and taste that the customer wants do not occur in the available Dutch apple varieties.”

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