"This year hasn't been the greatest for quality in the Belgian soft fruit sector," says Guy de Meyer of Demargro. "The cold weather means woody, soft fruit's quality was poorer than normal. The supply lagged, resulting in relatively high prices. That, in turn, meant lower consumer uptake."
However, the current sunny weather is providing a great supply of quality strawberries. "These have a good workable price at the moment. If they're too high, it's hard to find sales. But if they're too low, it's not good for us either. Then everyone has strawberries, and there's lots of competition. That leads to too-low margins."
Protected or full soil
Guy says Demargro only works with about five percent full soil products. The remaining 95% of the strawberries they buy are from protected cultivation - under canopies or in greenhouses. They sell these in countries like France, Spain, and Scandinavia.
"Full soil farming continues to decrease. We still do about five percent for customers who specifically ask for it. But, for example, this year, the rain damaged full soil produce far more than protected cultivation. This year's lack of sunlight rather than the cold and damp has affected protected farming most."
There used to be a fairly limited choice of strawberry varieties. Now, cooperatives are offering more and more of these. The quality also keeps improving, says De Meyer. "Before, you mainly got Elsanta. These days, there are varieties like the Sensation, Murano, Verity, and Falco. Each has distinctive characteristics, advantages, and sometimes disadvantages."
Growing soft fruit market
Demargro's products are wildly popular in France. But, this exporter supplies Spain and Scandinavia too. They have been adding more and more countries to their list in recent years. The company has also been focusing on finding new markets. "Our employees have a lot of expertise in the products we offer. Also, we work exclusively with high-quality products. So, we keep finding new markets that are interested in our products," says Guy.
"Much of our advertising is through word of mouth. Buyers are happy and see we can deliver consistently good quality." This year, Demargro has focused strongly on raspberry and other berry sales too. "Prices were a bit high at the beginning of the season. Nonetheless, we managed lots of sales. In Belgium, our quality makes us truly distinctive. Because of that, demand for these products remains as well."
It is business as usual, even though the company is constructing a new building. It is just a kilometer from their current location. "It's going very well. We'll move into the new, larger premises soon enough. That will be, at the latest, at the end of this year, or early next year." The new warehouse not only has a 3,400m2 packaging area. There is also a 4,500m2 shipping area and 2,000m2 refrigeration space. "The new building and additional space will allow us to expand and be ready for the future," concludes Guy.