For more than 40 years, Anecoop has united growers in the Valencia region of Spain to supply the major markets of Europe. Now this second tier co-op or “co-operative of co-operatives” counts 71 co-ops among its membership with thousands of grower-members between them. Produce Business UK talks to Nacho Juárez, Anecoop’s citrus manager, to find out what the group has in store for UK buyers
Without a doubt citrus remains a major part of Anecoop’s business, accounting for some 350,000 tonnes a year and representing 45-50% of its total volumes and 40-45% of turnover. Among its export markets, the UK has evolved into a leading receiver.
“Over the last 20 years our share of the UK market has progressed steadily,” says Juárez, “especially in citrus but also in melons. We have also played a part in getting ‘Spanish Persimon’ [persimmon] listed by most of the UK multiples.”
But when it comes to citrus lines, the UK is a very particular market and one that Anecoop knows well thanks to its arrangement with Lincolnshire-based import subsidiary Fesa UK.
“Satsumas continue to be a line that is really appreciated by the UK and the fruit is listed by most of the supermarkets for sustained periods during the length of the campaign,” Juárez explains. “This is different to other European countries where it’s true that with the diversification of Spain’s offer to include other easy-peeler types, the percentage of satsumas has declined and share has been lost mainly to clementines.”
Grapefruit and lemon challenges
Anecoop’s growers also supply the UK with lemons and grapefruit and they enjoy a strong presence with regular listings on these lines. However, both fruits represent tough markets for the Valencia-based business.
“Grapefruit is particularly affected by problems of competition with other countries of origin,” says Juárez, “and in the case of lemons, there’s been a structural increase in demand alongside dwindling supplies from Spain.”
The result is that the markets for these products – both from the producers’ and the retailers point of view – are “somewhat unstable, according to Juárez. “Our aim in the category has always been to find compatibility between the quality of our products and the service to our customers, and adequate returns to our growers,” he says.
Still satisfying UK peculiarities
Juárez believes UK buyers have very specific demands when it comes to citrus, but as a source he claims Spain is still well placed to meet their requirements.
“In Spain we’re able to pre-pack at source to supply the UK retailers directly with virtually all product lines,” he says. “This allows for considerable cost savings in the supply chain and significant flexibility for the supermarkets and the service providers.
“Of course, we also have the full range of citrus varieties available in Europe from just one source country; a state of affairs that no other northern hemisphere supplier can rival.”
Nevertheless, the UK market is not an easy one to supply. “UK buyers above all are looking for product that meets their precise specifications exactly, as well as continuity throughout a given supplier’s entire season, plus complete product homogeneity during the whole period,” explains Juárez.
A tall order indeed. “And in the case of the UK, the demands on presentation, branding, labelling and quality on delivery are on average much greater than for the rest of Europe,” he adds. “There are also more SKUs per chain and category of product.”
Progression via research & development
Looking ahead to future UK supply, Anecoop is working tirelessly to stay ahead of the game, meaning research and development plays an important role in the group’s future strategy.
“We are working on practically every front in citrus development,” reveals Juárez. “From extra early and late mandarin varieties and lengthening the season for high quality clementines to searching for alternatives in the blood-orange category with improved varieties and a better supply calendar. Plus we’re researching into new rootstocks to improve crop development and facilitate work in the field, and looking into extending the season for satsumas and other lines.
For all of this work, Juárez points out that Anecoop is joining forces with practically all the plant material specialists worldwide. “We also have a very close historical collaboration with the agricultural research institute IVIA in Valencia,” he adds.