Swedish tomato growers are struggling because of the corona crisis. Mats Olofsson of Vikentomater in southern Sweden employs 33 seasonal workers. He grows around 250 tons of tomatoes annually. He suffered significant losses this spring. Restaurants stopped buying, and he had to adjust his prices. "We adapted and are now selling in the stores. But we had considerable competition when cheap tomatoes were imported from Morocco, Spain, and the Netherlands. I'm afraid wholesalers no longer consider Sweden. They import because it's so cheap," Mats says.
Mads Pedersen is Sweden's most prominent tomato farmer. He agrees with Olofsson. "It's hard to compete. It's ultimately the consumer's choice. So, I hope they'll support local farmers."
Marcus Söderlind is the Swedish agricultural cooperative, LRF's spokesperson. He also agrees with the growers. "It's been a tough year. Everyone's coming up with ideas of what to do with their products. People want more fruit and vegetables. There's a lot of evidence that interest in local and Swedish grown crops has increased. But tomatoes have been a concern for years."
"Even in the high season, Swedish tomatoes only cover a quarter of the market. That additional demand, therefore, didn't affected trade at all. If there's a disturbance somewhere, the market floods, and prices fall. Tomatoes from abroad are then cheap, and transport costs nothing. Then you can't compete. Plus, Swedish growers have switched to biofuel. While, in the Netherlands, fossil fuel is still used."
Dagab is a Swedish wholesaler. This company supplies local chain stores like Hemköp and Willys. Here, not everyone agrees. Daniel Månsson, the Fruit and Vegetable Department Manager, says, "Sweden supplies 60% of all the summer tomato varieties. And that percentage is growing. There aren't enough Swedish tomatoes to supply everyone. So stopping imports isn't an option. There are hardly any organic tomatoes grown in Sweden either. Without imports, we'd, therefore, not be able to offer these."
Focus on Sweden
Jonas Andersson is a fruit and vegetable purchasing manager. He works at ICA, the leading grocery retailer in Sweden. He also thinks the attention is already on Swedish products. "In the summer, there was a huge surplus of mainly Dutch vine tomatoes. We offered those too. But if you consider what we use to advertise, it's always Swedish products. And you have to consider what is still growing in Sweden. The Swedish tomato season is, after all, coming to an end."
Coop is supplied by the wholesaler, Everfresh. This supermarket chain is said to be in talks with Swedish tomato growers. They want to enlarge Swedish tomatoes' share in their assortment. "We're working hard to sell as many Swedish products as possible. We offer small Swedish tomatoes under our own brand. We also don't import certain goods during the Swedish summer season. We don't differ in any way from the rest of the market. We deliver what shoppers also influence - the price. After all, that part depends on consumer demand."
“Imports are breaking us”
Annicka Assarsson, tomato grower and the LRF’s greenhouse division's spokesperson says, "Imports are simply breaking us. You should be able to buy what you want. I support free trade, but it's difficult. We haven't taken stock yet, but this has never happened before. The wholesalers got huge volumes of Dutch produce, especially snack tomatoes, at rock-bottom prices. As a result, we'll be growing a quarter fewer of a large cherry tomato variety next season."