Fruit and vegetable wholesaler round-up: "'Gold, too, can be too pricey, as my Uncle Joop used to say"

Easter rush has begun, but limited availability and high prices loom over the market

"Easter sales are particularly tough this year," says Michel van den Berg of De Best AGF, a wholesaler in The Hague. "TOVs cost €4/kg, Iceberg lettuce €2, with zucchini and cucumbers going for €1.50 and €1 apiece, respectively. People want to buy, but for good trading, these prices are far too high. The market vendors are all struggling to fill their stalls. That's a real shame because they'd usually sell much more at this time of year."

"Everyone knows why this is happening. With the current gas prices, Dutch growers would rather not heat their crops. Diesel is costly. And the weather in Spain is responsible for the rest. The high prices have taken a bit of the pressure off. But everything's just too expensive to make good. If you get products somewhere at good prices, they're soon gone. But it's hard to find trade. There were, for example, hardly any iceberg lettuces available yesterday."

"That is all hanging over the market. The Easter week is usually excellent, much better than even Christmas. Restaurants are packed, especially when the weather is nice. Then, asparagus and strawberries sell like hotcakes. Lambada strawberries are selling well now, but the soft fruit season has yet to get off the ground. A pity because with greater availability, we could have made plenty of sales this week," Michel says.

"Easter trading is well underway at Gebr. van Aarle too," says this Dutch company's buyer, Edwin van Eijndhoven. "Demand for seasonal products like asparagus and strawberries is especially high. Easter sales' advantage over Christmas is that the goods sold are far more often regular trade. In particular, order sizes increase. During the Christmas period, there's far more demand for things like exotics and exclusive products. However, our foodservice customers are ordering more cresses and unusual leafy vegetables."

"We still largely depend on imported goods from places like Spain. But, the bad weather there has severely limited the availability of products such as iceberg and other lettuce varieties, broccoli, and even raspberries." Edwin says strawberries are currently selling very well. "The Dutch ones' prices have dropped slightly every day since the week began. Asparagus, too, are in high demand," he says.

According to Ellen Sebrechts of the Belgian company of the same name, traders are indeed feeling the Easter rush. "The weather's certainly helping. The first week of the Easter vacation was very quiet here. The weather wasn't good, many people were away, and everything's generally quite expensive."

"Sales, therefore, seemed to stagnate somewhat. This week, however, began very well. Temperatures of 18°C are being predicted, and people are buying for the Easter weekend, so we've had nice crowds. Several stores close during the Easter break, but all reopen the weekend before Easter."

"Specialties aren't as popular for Easter as during the festive season. At the moment, products like greenhouse cabbage and asparagus are selling well. As are pre-peeled asparagus, asparagus tips, and green asparagus."

"The warmer weather means the different strawberry varieties such as Elsanta, Sonsation, Sonata, to name but a few, all arrived on the market simultaneously," Ellen explains.

"Understandably, people start craving summer fruit in the spring. Larger supplies and the promise of good weather mean shoppers flock to the strawberries, even the special ones that had just started. The pricier, more exclusive products such as flown-in mangoes, melons, and citrus also remain in demand."

Asparagus on display at Sebrechts

"The rising fuel prices, transport shortages, strikes, and adverse weather have led to limited availability of, especially, import products," Ellen explains. "In Spain, for instance, the weather has been terrible in recent weeks. That affects both the quality and supply of products. The rain brings, for example, citrus harvesting to a halt. But we're generally getting fewer products."

"And everything has become more expensive. Things like lettuce are very pricey. Because exporters are buying up a lot of lettuce, supplies of all kinds - the different varieties like Lolla Rossa, Bionda, oak leaf, red, and even standard lettuce - are limited. Add in the increased demand towards Easter, and you get higher prices," says Ellen.

"'My Uncle Joop always used to say 'Gold, too, can be too expensive," says Wijnand de Mooij of the fruit and vegetable wholesaler of the same name in Rotterdam. "But, you make money quicker when you sell something for €20 instead of €2. Trading has become like the wild west lately. There is a war, global pandemic, diesel surcharge, rising labor costs, inflation, and expensive fertilizer, plastics, and packaging. Every week there's something else we have to respond to and circumvent."

"However, even 34 years later, we still love the fruit and vegetable sector and its many opportunities. Nowadays, more and more of our competitors are charging delivery costs because of the high diesel prices. We don't. It gives clients an unclear picture, and sales-wise, it's not practical either. Nor do customers like it; they don't consider it a service. These steps by our competition now actually give us opportunities to increase our sales."

"When it comes to purchasing and sales prices, trading has changed dramatically and is, in truth, far too expensive. Yet, there is buying and selling; we're currently extremely busy. The hospitality industry has returned well, while the stores and market vendors are selling slightly less than in 2021. Consumers can only spend money in one place," Wijnand says.

"But with Easter just around the corner and the good weather ahead, people are in a good mood. We, therefore, expect excellent sales figures. The developments and high prices clearly show that especially the better market merchants and shopkeepers continue trading. There's little dumping on the Dutch market."

"Spanish goods, like Iceberg, Romaine, packaged little gem lettuce, and curled endive are very expensive. But the Spanish driver strikes no longer affect us, and there are no availability problems with our UnicaVera line's lettuce from Italy," continues Wijnand. "Arugula, mesclun, and lamb's lettuce are selling well, and prices shouldn't increase this close to Easter. The Dutch products are plentiful and well-priced. Cucumber, zucchini, bell peppers, vine tomatoes, and eggplant are the price outliers."

"But, as I said, it's easier to make money charging €20 than €2. We're going to be hectic this week because, with these prospects, Easter sometimes outshines Christmas. And we have a long weekend to look forward to, after all this hard work," Wijnand concludes.

For more information:
Michel van den Berg
De Best AGF
Tel: +31 (0) 623 728 028

Gebrs van Aarle
39 Van Leeuwenhoekweg
5482 TK, Schijndel, NL
Tel: +31 (0) 735 441 919

Sebrechts Fruit
4 Kielsbroek
Warehouse A1
2020, Antwerp, Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0) 323 74 192

Wijnand de Mooij
170 Groothandelsmarkt
3044 HG, Rotterdam, NL
Tel: +31 (0) 104 373 984

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