Jens Wiele, Chairman of the board of ELO eG:

"As a cooperative, we stand closely together"

With annual sales of 232 million, Erzeugergroßmarkt Langförden-Oldenburg eG (ELO) is probably one of the largest fruit and vegetable companies in Germany. We spoke to Jens Wiele (picture on the right), who has been Chairman of the Board of ELO eG since 2022, about current developments in the vegetable market and about both the past and the current financial year.

Sales increase of 14.9 percent
"According to the GfK Institute, the market development in the fruit and vegetable sector indicated a decline in sales of 3.9 percent. We at ELO eG, on the other hand, have developed very positively, with a 14.9 percent increase in sales," said Wiele, praising the work of his colleagues at ELO and its affiliated growers. The cooperative's products are not only sold in this country but are also exported to neighboring countries as well as to Italy, England, Sweden, Norway, and other countries. "Our best sellers include our entire cabbage and lettuce assortment, which are in particularly high demand in regions and seasons where climatic conditions are not ideal for local production. Here we are especially appreciated for our quality, freshness, and flexibility."

With regard to the strawberry season, which is gradually getting underway, Wiele said he is convinced that the company is capable of matching last year's sales volumes and revenues once again. "Although no more new areas were added, about ten percent more tunnel systems were built on existing areas."

Low inflation rate
According to GfK, only just under three percent of costs could be passed on - even though media coverage of fruit and vegetable prices suggested a massive price increase, Wiele points out. "The real increases in production costs were actually in the double-digit percentage range. However, some cost drivers, such as energy, etc., are coming into perspective. Major expense increases, such as the minimum wage of 12 euros, still hit hard. We hope that we will be able to implement the necessary increases this year, as the earnings situation remains very tight."

Open to new farms
"As a cooperative, we stand closely together and have been able to ensure that our supplying farms can also compete in the market. As a cooperative, we are designed for growth and welcome more growers to join us," he said. "We are also able to increase our cultivation volumes in total in coordination with our relevant partners. Of course, we can only try to create the best possible conditions because - like everyone - we depend on nature."

Sustainability as a guide
He added that ELO also strives to offer at least 75 percent of all products sold with a ZNU certificate and, along with this, to address the issue of sustainability more strongly. "Sustainability is not just marketing for us. Rather, we want to become a leader in social, environmental, and economic standards."

The issue of young talent does represent a major challenge for the industry, he notes. However, ELO is well positioned in this regard, he says. "All farms where a generational change is imminent are also sensibly accompanied by us during the changeover. But our producers are also open at all times to optimizing their product range and developing further. Protected cultivation, for example, is a good option for efficiently increasing yields on existing land."

Regional and seasonal instead of organic vs. conventional
As a positive development, Wiele observes that fruits and vegetables are very much in vogue, especially in conscious eating. Last but not least, sustainability also plays a major role here, he says. "In the fruit and vegetable product groups, there should be less of a distinction between organic and conventional, but rather a reference to the fact that regional and seasonal products are the benchmark for sustainability, both in ecological, economic and social terms."

The CO2 footprint can be covered very well with conventional agriculture, he said, but Germany also has clear advantages over other countries when it comes to water management and the use of pesticides. "Policymakers should place a stronger focus on goods from Germany And apply fair assessment standards. It should also be taken into account that Germany always implements European standards particularly thoroughly."

Competitiveness restricted by politics
Currently, however, he said, politics is ensuring that competitiveness for German producers is declining in comparison with other EU countries and especially with non-EU countries. "From minimum wage, occupational health and safety, plant protection, the increase of the truck toll, and some more: the local agriculture does not come to rest. All these aspects limit Germany as a business location.

Referring to 2020 figures from the Federal Statistical Office, Wiele said: "You have to consider that 851,000 people are employed in German agriculture. In comparison, around 790,000 people work in the automotive industry. The fact that agriculture is a major pillar in the German labor market is hardly taken into account."

For more information:
Jens Wiele
Erzeugergroßmarkt Langförden-Oldenburg eG
Mittelwand 1749377 Vechta-Langförden
Tel.: +49 4447.9620.0
Fax: +49 4447.9620.190 

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