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Spanish hegemony in organic greenhouse vegetables

Organic cultivation is on the rise in Spain, especially for greenhouse vegetables. Does that have a disruptive effect on the market, or is it a question of supply and demand? We asked Job van den Berg from Bio Montaña. “The Dutch greenhouse vegetable cultivation doesn’t have to fear for its right to exist. Demand for organic is too large for that, and production in Spain is too dependent on the weather circumstances. Of course that remains a major risk factor.”

The economic crisis was in the way of organic for a long time. Now that it has ebbed away, consumers choose organic vegetables more often and more consciously, Job has noticed. He works for Bio Montaña, the Spanish partner of the Best Fresh Group. “That switch can now also be seen at cultivation level. The larger conventional names in Spain are now also starting with organic. They immediately think in large volumes, hundreds of hectares are involved right away.”

Spain as preferred supplier
The influence of organic in Spain has already had a noticeable effect on the Dutch cultivation. “A German retailer like Aldi Nord sees a reliable partner in Spain for year-round supply of the well-known trinity of tomato, bell pepper and cucumber. The discounter will only return to the Dutch cultivation if the Spanish isn’t sufficient. Because of that, the Netherlands mostly plays a part as ‘gap filler.’ It used to be the other way around in the past. The market only looked at Dutch product at certain times, and Spain was hardly or not at all involved,” Job continues. “Regarding organic supply, Spain is developing in such a way that retail isn’t loyal to Dutch product as before. Spain has been working hard to become known as a year-round supplier, and not without success, apparently.”

“Price-wise, growing is much more efficient in Spain,” Job mentions. “When push comes to shove, price is of overriding importance more often than the country of origin for large retailers, except for local organic shops.” Job emphasises that, as long as the quality of the Spanish product isn’t inferior to the Dutch, Spain will quickly become the preferred supplier in current circumstances, because the Iberian Peninsula can grow a multitude of products year-round.

Capital-intensive investments increase sales opportunities
The quality of the cultivation itself has increased considerably in recent years. Job: “Growers invest in more modern greenhouses, which can be heated in winter, increasingly often. That is reflected in the quality of the product as well. Capital investments in cooled transport and storage, ultramodern conditioned warehouses and a higher throughput from cultivation to packaged product have all had a positive impact on shelf life. That naturally increases the sales options.”

Because of these developments, there’s a certain overlap with the Dutch product within the greenhouse vegetable segment. The volumes of Spanish cucumbers arrived in large numbers at the start of the season. That also had its effect on pricing. “In recent weeks, prices for courgettes and cucumbers were under a lot of pressure. When prices are that low, growers stop showing up as a matter of course, and a natural balance returns,” Job explains. For outdoor vegetables there’s not much overlap. Sales of these are fairly synchronised.

More information:
Bio Montaña
Job van den Berg
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