The fresh produce career of Stephan van Marrewijk started at the former Disselkoen Group, where he was sent to in Spain after three months. By now, he has been working and living in Spain for the past twenty years, of which the last nine years were in the commercial department of the cooperation Vicasol. In the course of the years, he saw that the profits of the fruit and vegetable cooperation increased greatly. “ In 2007, we traded 70 million kilos, while in this year, our 880 members (totalling 1800 hectares) had a total supply of 220 million kilos.”
“Our product portfolio consists of the typical Almeria package. About 60% of our volume is made out of tomatoes, supplemented with sweet peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, and hot peppers. In the spring, we also add melons to the assortment. We are growing fruits and vegetables all over Almeria, and, for example, we can grow tomatoes all year round in the northern mountain range. During the summer, about 80% of the production stays in Spain,” says Stephan. “The new Spanish vegetable season started with very hot weather conditions, with cucumbers that are grown too quickly and yellowish products as a result. In the meantime, the situation has been rectified. I expect a smooth switch between the Dutch and Spanish seasons. Hopefully, we get an easy winter with regard to the weather, so the import will be regular and we can easily organize the program for our clients.”
Moreover, the Netherlands is not Spain’s only competitor. “In Germany and Eastern Europe, we have been suffering from Polish products. Last year, there were a lot of Turkish tomatoes on the European market due to the Russian boycott, and Morocco has taken a lot of the tomatoes from Spain,” states Stephan. Every year, the cooperative indicates to the producers how much they think they need of which product; the growers can sign up for a certain amount of product and if there are too many sign-ups, there might be a need for drawing lots.
Growth in organic segment
The major part of the clients of Vicasol (about 85%) consists of retailers throughout Europe. An important development in the past few years is the increasing demand for organic vegetables. “The largest growth nowadays, is in the organic segment. We have a reasonably large organic acreage and we can expand this in the next few years. Many horticulturists are in the middle of switching. The demand for organic vegetables is increasing significantly and we see this as an opportunity for the future to satisfy this demand.
A separate segment of Vicasol is the gazpacho salmorejo, fresh tomato additives and grilled sweet peppers. “We are trying to produce as sustainably as possible, all of our class 3 vegetables that cannot be sold as fresh produce we try to process in canned goods, gazpacho salmorejo. So that we can realize a higher average price, sell all of our products, and try to throw away as little as possible.”
Horticulturists are lining up
Vicasol has no lack of interested growers. “The horticulturists are lining up to join our group. Of course, there is a lot of talk amongst themselves, so for that matter Almeria is just like Westland. Every year, more producers join us and we grow with 10 or 15%. The growers are satisfied with the service that we offer them. For instance, we take care of joint purchase of fertilizers and finances. Besides, we can create a good average price for the products, so that the producers feel safe,” says Stephan.
The cooperative model is very much alive in Spain and it will remain that way for now, according to Stephan. “Our clients are very happy to directly deal with the source. There is a large difference between cooperations and private companies on one side, and auction producers on the other side. These auction producers are speculating too much, which is not good for the market and the quality of the vegetables. Because of that reason, we do not like to work together with auction producers. Without speculation, we are happy to face the challenge of realizing a higher average price than that of our competitors. If that happens, we have done great!”
For more information:
Stephan van MarrewijkVicasol
04738 Puebla de Vicar