Pfalzmarkt eG invited media representatives to its new Hall 4 in Mutterstadt for the official start of the 2023 fresh vegetable season. This new hub for fresh fruit and vegetables was first put into operation at the beginning of 2022 to once again accelerate fresh produce logistics to food retailers and consumers nationwide.
The investment volume for the construction of one of Europe's largest and most modern marketing centers for fresh fruit and vegetables amounted to around 30 million euros in the first expansion phase up to commissioning. As planned, the second expansion phase for even greater sustainability will begin in 2023. Hans-Jörg Friedrich, member of the board at Pfalzmarkt eG, says: "With around 23,000 m2, we are using almost the entire hall roof for regenerative energy generation, thus making Pfalzmarkt eG self-sufficient. The investment for the photovoltaic technology is 2.5 million euros."
Good business figures
Among other things, facts and figures on the 2022 financial year were presented, as well as the company's modern, digitalized work process. Annual sales in 2022 were 173 million euros with a production volume of 210,000 tons. The area under cultivation in the Palatinate, Germany's vegetable garden, is around 15,000 hectares.
From left to right: Chief Administrative Officer Hans-Jörg Friedrich, Chairman of the Supervisory Board Christian Deyerling and Chief Operating Officer Reinhard Oerther of Pfalzmarkt eG.
Water supply secured
After a rather dry year in 2022, this spring has so far been satisfactory with the weather conditions. "February was sunny and almost perfect for sowing and planting. In March, we had less sun and also less growth due to the lower temperatures," says Chairman of the Board Christian Deyerling. Overall, however, marketing was able to start with good qualities. At the end of March/beginning of April, the season started with the first red radishes.
"We were also able to offer asparagus quite early, but with restricted quantities. As of this week, we are noticing stronger volume increases again, as the nights are no longer so cold." Thanks to the cooperation with the water and soil association, there are no problems with the water supply. With the irrigation system, which is unique in Europe, the fields in the Vorderpfalz can be optimally supplied with water."
Largest and most modern system in Europe
"We usually start the season two to four weeks earlier, which we succeeded in doing this year," emphasized Sales Director Reinhard Oerther, praising the work of the growers who ensured the appropriate qualities. Among the spring products offered are red radishes, spring onions, but also arugula, lamb's lettuce and other lettuce varieties, which are now available with good quality.
"Here is one of the largest and most modern marketing halls for fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe. We as board members are proud of what we have achieved over the past two to three years in association with the grower companies, the employees and the various committees to be able to build this hall with its ultra-fast and short routes," says Oerther.
Quality inspector Caroline Renner explains the quality assurance process from Pfalzmarkt, which uses tablets among other things.
Tablets and scanners speed up quality assurance
Construction work on the new hall began back in August 2019, and it was ready for operation at the start of the 2022 season. "We are much more digitally positioned than before and will also work almost paperless in the future because a lot is documented via tablets. Our quality assurance department also uses scanners for inspection," says Friedrich.
The goods are delivered by producers, photographed via tablets, then evaluated and finally forwarded to picking. During each inspection, several images are taken and recorded in the system. Among other things, the goods are checked for their respective weight, size, quantity and potential defects. The sales department has access to the information at the same time. If the worst comes to the worst, a quick consultation with the producers can take place, so that the optimum quality of "Erntefrisch aus der Pfalz" is always ensured.
"On the roof of the new Hall 4, we will also be installing a new 23,000 m2 photovoltaic system starting in May. Finally, by the fourth calendar quarter, transformers will be installed so that the electricity can be fed in here as well," Friedrich said. This could generate about 2.6 million kWh of electricity a year, covering 25 percent of daily electricity consumption. "We are also planning another PV system for truck parking, including roofing. As a result, we are making great strides toward self-sufficiency and sustainability. Since electricity prices have risen so much, the investment will pay for itself in just two to three years."
Increasing tunnel and protected cultivation areas
"This year we managed to start the season right on time, but of course this is very dependent on the weather," says Oerther. "We are also already looking at greenhouse cultivation, but this is not yet a major issue due to the given cost increases. Tunnel or protected cultivation, however, is increasing year by year."
Pfalzmarkt eG can offer any of its 140 fresh products in organic quality throughout the season in consultation with customers. About four percent of the assortment currently consists of organic production, he said. "With the onset of the pandemic and the decline in customer interest, many businesses have become more cautious. There are areas that are in the conversion phase, however, one or two farms are wondering if it's still profitable or if it's better to return to conventional production."
Convincing the next generation to take over existing operations is challenging, says Deyerling. "If production could consistently cover costs and the appreciation for their efforts were also rewarded accordingly, more successors would certainly be willing to take on responsibility and continue production. Compared to the European average, we operate with very high production costs. In view of this and because of the pressure from imported goods, there is a danger that we will lose labor-intensive and cost-intensive crops in this country." Many costs would remain with the farms. Despite this, however, most growers and their families remain positive.
High media interest at Pfalzmarkt
Exports account for 15 percent, he said. "During the season, we offer only domestic produce from the Palatinate, while over the winter months we add imports from Italy, Spain and Portugal," Oether tells us. "The main customer is the German food retail trade as well as the wholesale market trade. The main markets also include Scandinavia, France, Spain, Great Britain, Greece, Czechia, and other countries. So we are very broadly positioned."
Christian Deyerling, Reinhard Oerther und Hans-Jörg Friedrich
Pfalzmarkt für Obst und Gemüse eG
Neustadter Str. 100