Demand for strawberries peaks around the midsummer’s night celebrations, but there’s also demand for strawberries outside of the season. “We start import from Spain around new year and the season really takes off on Valentine’s Day,” says Niclas Johansson of the Swedish importing company Elsanta. “Imports from Belgium start in April and the big volumes are coming in from 15 of May.” The company Elsanta, named for the well-known strawberry variety, imports large volumes of strawberries. The Swedish company has a close relationship with the Belgian auction LTV. LTV owns 51% of the company

“We start importing from Belgium around St Valentine’s Day,” says Niclas Johansson. “We switch to Swedish production as soon as possible.” Elsanta functions as a turntable in the Swedish strawberry trade. The company imports large volumes that are quickly sold to various customers. “During the Spanish season, we receive about seven to ten lorries per week. The top weeks in end of May beginning of June we normally buy three to four trucks every day from the Belgium auctions. Practically everyone in Sweden buys from us, because we receive many fresh arrivals.”

Niclas Johansson.

Belgian connection
In 2004, Ove Holmlund founded the import company. It was his philosophy to import a limited assortment of large volumes, and to conquer a spot on the market that way. He didn’t just start with strawberries, but also with mushrooms. “All mushrooms then still came from the Netherlands, but he had good contacts in Poland and imported two to three lorries per week. Two years later, the head office moved to Belgium, where the strawberries were bought. The structure of the company changed, and it became an exporter from Belgium rather than an importer from Sweden.”

From 2009 there’s been more attention for Swedish fruit, and the assortment is further expanded. A year later, half the shares were sold to LTV. The founder retains some, and sells some to Niclas. That structure still exists, everyone working for the company also has shares in it. “It’s important to have owners within the company, because we work long hours and it’s difficult to find good staff,” Niclas explains.

Large assortment of strawberries
That year, between about 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes of Swedish top fruit product was sold, and a packing station was acquired in Helsingborg. “We had to add value and guarantee stability with products besides strawberries.” A packing station in the southeast of the country, in the heart of the top fruit growing area, should partially guarantee that stability.

Even though berries are the main product category for Elsanta, the warehouse is full with other products as well to spread the risks.

When a top fruit grower puts his company up for sale in 2012, Elsanta sees its chance and takes over the company. However, the basis of the company remains in soft fruit. On a yearly basis, about three million kilos of strawberries is marketed nowadays. “Our customers include supermarkets and retail traders, who we offer various strawberries,” Niclas says. The range consists of about ten to fifteen different varieties and sizes. “Each customer has its own requirements.”

Rumba, Honeoye and Late Malvina
The Swedish strawberries are mostly grown in open fields. “We have several greenhouse growers, but most strawberries are grown outdoors,” Niclas says. “To extend the seasons, tunnels are often used, but the traditional season is in June and July, demand is highest then.” Most growers also offer the fruit in stalls along the road. The most popular strawberry is the Rumba. A major grower switched to this variety two years ago and now everybody follows.

“The Rumba tastes great when it’s properly ripe and deep red in colour,” Niclas explains. “But when the strawberry is picked too early, this variety is flavourless.” However, Rumba is a good variety for the Swedish market when summers are good. “Sonata isn’t grown much because of grey mould,” Niclas continues. Florence and Late Malvina can also be found in Swedish fields. “Late Malvina is very flavourful, but yields aren’t very high.”

Raspberries are becoming increasingly more popular in Sweden. “During the summer months, there’s a good market for domestic product. With imports from Spain and Portugal, we have a year-round supply,” Niclas says. Blueberries are imported from Latin America, Spain, Germany and Poland. This is the fastest growing item within the category. There’s hardly any room on the market for blackberries. “Blackberries are a small product, because they can be picked alongside the roads,” Niclas concludes.

For more information:
Niclas Johansson
Knut Påls v. 15
256 69 Helsingborg
T: +46 (0) 42 311 13 30