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Jonathan Vandesande, FMB:

"Even the specialty tomatoes that were always in short supply are barely selling now"

"An atypical season," is how Jonathan Vandesande of Frans Michiels Belgium (FMB) describes the current Belgian greenhouse vegetable season. "People seem to have little appetite for tomatoes, which nevertheless clearly depresses prices on the clock in all varieties. Even the specialties, which were almost always in short supply in recent years, are sometimes barely getting rid of."

The Belgian exporter from Sint-Katelijne-Waver sees that so far this season, there is just less movement on the market. "It's peculiar. Bulk loose and vine tomatoes, where the biggest volumes come from, are hard to get rid of, but so are the special varieties, such as San Marzano, Coeur de Boeuf and cherry vine tomatoes, which actually remain low in price all the time. It is a big difference compared to other years. It is striking because, on the contrary, in recent years growers often suggest buying the specialties on contract on a seasonal basis. Then you are sure to get the volumes and don't fish next to the net. Indeed, in recent years it was necessary to have the contracts, but this year is very different."

For the reason for the lacklustre sales, Jonathan looks at several factors. "Is it because of the weather? I think it has a lot to do with it. When it rains or is cold, it invites less consumption of tomatoes. However, I also have the feeling that in German-speaking countries, which is our main sales market, people have a little less of their purchasing power left over for fruit and vegetables. Similarly, we hear from many customers supplying the gastronomy sector that things are much more difficult there. They have exponential price increases for staff and rent, which they have to pass on to consumers. Then you see that overall sales are declining. In retail, it seems less the case, but the catering and food service sectors are still sensitive to this."

Cucumber growers get better prices
The weather conditions are additionally affecting supply in other greenhouse vegetables. "In tomatoes, things are still going well. They are less affected by cloudy weather, but in peppers and cucumbers in particular, there is a lot of variability in productions. In cucumbers, for instance, last year we actually always had too much resulting in low prices, but this year we are actually seeing good to very good prices again because there is less product coming in due to the dark and rainy spring. Although the total area at BelOrta, where we buy from, did grow overall, we see a shortage rather than a surplus of cucumbers. Those growers can therefore make substantially better prices than tomato growers. However, that is also a rollercoaster, because as soon as the sun shines for a couple of weeks, prices in cucumbers can also drop off substantially. It's an exceptional year."

"Let's hope it picks up a bit for the rest of the season," Jonathan continued. "However, that remains to be seen. Tomatoes seem to be peaking in production now, so prices have been lousy. In recent years, I can remember prices picking up significantly in mid/late July and early August, but it doesn't look like that for now." He doubts whether competition also plays a role in this.

For more information:
Jonathan Vandesande
Frans Michiels & Zn (FMB)
Kempenarestraat 50A - Bus 3
2860 Sint-Katelijne-Waver, Belgium
Tel +32 15 560600
[email protected]

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