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Charlotte Buyck, Calsa:

"Due to weather extremes, we are diversifying our sourcing so as not to be dependent on any one region"

After a long period of heavy rainfall and disappointing temperatures, King Summer has really arrived since this week. And how, temperatures shot straight towards 30 degrees. The weather extremes and associated uncertainties hang over the sector like a sword of Damocles. It is a factor that companies increasingly need to guard against. "It is the reason why we are increasingly trying to diversify towards sourcing so that we are not dependent on any particular region for our supply," Charlotte Buyck of Calsa tells us.

The family-run business, which was founded in 1939, has now made the transition to the summer season. Calsa originally specialised in leeks, and Charlotte looks back on a good end to this product. "During the winter, there was a long period where there were good prices due to strong demand," she explains. "However, in late February/March a lot of supply came on the market with lower demand from Southern Europe, causing the pricing to take a nosedive. For a while there were fears that this would carry over into the final months of the season, but in the following weeks we saw supply dwindle in other markets and demand return. This did the prices good."

"As a result, we still had a nice end to the season after the dip in March. Of course, it may have played a part that the yield of the last batches was not that extremely high. Moreover, at the time of strong prices in January, certain growers decided to harvest a lot already, but I still think that those who opted for frigo leek storage will not be dissatisfied. It is still sometimes uncertain, but this year it was still good. Now we are a bit in between seasons. There are some early leeks, but they tend to be a bit thin, making it more for the local market. We expect the bigger volumes for export again towards August."

Diversifying sources
Despite the fact that for many, thoughts quickly turn to leeks when the name Calsa comes to mind, the end of the leek season does not mean that it is now months of rest, assures Charlotte. "It is not that we are in crisis now that we are in between the leek season. Greenhouse vegetables, strawberries and the start of summer vegetables, we are having a great time," she laughs. "Still, we did miss the nice weather in spring for a long time. There have been a few nice days, but it's not like we've had extended periods of good weather. This had a big impact on the work in the fields. We saw that almost everything is planted late. Especially when you look at produce like leeks and white cabbage. In the end, it may all still work out, but this will also depend on what will happen in the summer. Will it be an extremely dry summer or a 'Belgian' summer, like we had last year. A lot is going to depend on that."

"For early harvest, we haven't experienced many problems," she continues. "Only the rainfall creates gaps in supply. You would like to have a nice transition between the early harvest and the 'normal' harvest, but the weather extremes still cause significant breaks in supply. These are problems you just have to guard against these days. For us in particular, that means diversifying towards sourcing to cope with any supply problems. You cannot depend on one particular region. For instance, we have different harvesting regions within Belgium, from where we source our supply. A kind of risk spreading."

"You also have different types of soil in different regions, which again, depending on the weather, gives a difference in supply. It is an important way for us to guard against the problems in product availability with climate change. After all, you want to maintain a continuity in the products you work with year-round. I think we have the right connections to set up nice programmes that allow us to ensure continuity and relieve our customers when we are in the right region at a certain time in the season. You always have to strive for perfection to match the last thing coming out of the frigo to new volumes, and we do that well."

Nice weather is your best customer
And so the company, which sees its main outlets in Germany, France, Spain and Eastern Europe, is now focusing on summer. "With green celery, we have started up. That is looking very nice. Also in white cabbage, we have recently started the new crop and in addition, we are getting stable volumes of greenhouse vegetables and strawberries. However, the weather just let us down for a very long time, so we noticed that demand was a bit faint and so prices were also on the low side across the spectrum."

"We heard it everywhere," Charlotte continues. "May and June can be very busy when there is a lot of sunshine, but now it has been more normal than busy for a long time. In tomatoes, demand has been absent for a long time, but we also saw in celery that there were no top takeaways. These are products that naturally also thrive on sunshine. A tomato for a salad or celery to accompany mussels, but there has been no appetite for mussels for a long time. Meanwhile, summer seems to have fully kicked off, so let's hope consumption picks up. After all, nice weather is your best customer, it is sometimes said here."

And that nice weather actually coincides exactly with the start of the cherry season. "We have the peak harvest starting this week, and you can see that this ideally coincides with the better temperatures. With all the rain, it's a good look at the quality of the cherries. For the later varieties like Kordia, we are confident of a nice quality if the nice weather persists a bit. Cherries do always attract attention."

Strengthening the organisation
So at the end of the day, Charlotte still looks to the near future with a positive outlook. A future in which Calsa as a company is keen to continue its steady growth. "Our company is now almost 85 years old, but in the last six years we have still experienced significant growth. There was always steady growth, but several acquisitions did accelerate it." These included integrating FMB, Gebroeders Michiels and Vanco into the company, so they now want to look at the organisation in the coming years.

"Our goal in 2024 and 2025 is to consolidate our position in the market. There are a lot of challenges ahead of us and for us the main thing now is to strengthen our organisation. Part of this is our focus on quality internally. For instance, we recently received certification for the Global G.A.P. Chain of Custody. This is a certificate with which Global G.A.P. wants to strengthen the chain by ensuring that the brokering that Global G.A.P. claims actually works with products bearing the label. That makes us stronger towards the future."

"Moreover, we want to address our internal operationalisation within the company. It's great to grow fast, but you shouldn't outrun yourself. As a result, we are working on a new software package, with which we want to ensure the history of our company into the future as well. I think we can then establish a future-proof company."

For more information:
Charlotte Buyck
Roeselaarsestraat 9b
8850 Ardooie, Belgium
+32(0) 51 74 73 74
[email protected]

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