In this opinion post Dom Weaver, the commercial director at PR agency RED Communications, uses the example of Spain to highlight how the UK supply chain can work with country growers to introduce new products to the market. Here, he explains why the introduction of Spanish specialty melons, cherimoya and other exotics could excite British consumers and reinvigorate fresh produce sales
When I started writing about fresh produce at the end of the 1990s, Spain was the dominant force in terms of exports of fruits and vegetables to the UK market, shipping staples that included leafy salads, peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruit.
Between then and now, Spain’s growers and exporters have had a torrid time; facing heightened pressure on prices from their main retailer customers and competition from emerging sources capable of supplying a similar product basket with lower production costs, and not to mention water scarcity and bouts of poor weather in key growing regions, plus the country’s worst recession in years. The effect has been price deflation and rising discontent in previously stable incumbent sectors, such as citrus.
Meanwhile, tastes have been developing in the UK where shoppers’ appetite for conventional produce such as Spain’s round tomatoes and whole head iceberg lettuce has plateaued, and demand has grown not only for convenient new formats of fruits and vegetables, but also completely new lines, such as exotics.
Reinventing Spanish supply
Fortunately, the Mediterranean country’s diverse product range gives it a catalogue of alternatives and new lines that it can draw on to excite UK consumers and re-energise its business.
Take Spanish persimon, for example. In just over a decade, and with the help of modest funding from government and its own industry, the organisation that governs the denomination of origin (DO) protection for Spanish persimon produced in Valencia’s Ribera del Xúquer valley has turned an unheard of exotic fruit into one of the produce category’s most successful new introductions in recent years.
Since 2005, sales of DO-protected Spanish persimon have soared from a few thousand pieces of fruit to more than 20 million during the season between mid-October and early February. Spanish persimon has accelerated to become the fastest-growing fresh produce item in the UK and regularly outsells mainstream exotics such as kiwifruit when in season.
Weary Valencian growers have responded by grubbing their unprofitable citrus orchards to plant hectares of persimon trees. As a result, they have successfully revitalised their businesses with this fruit. UK importers and retailers, too, have benefited greatly from offering their customers something completely new.
Other opportunities for suppliers and buyers
Persimon is an incredible case study for all involved in the supply of fresh produce from Spain to the UK market. Spain has been challenged to reinvent itself, and its growers were presented with a sizeable opportunity to lift themselves out of the slump.
Spanish growers must now look at other opportunities: there are countless other exciting products like persimon they can bring to market. Speciality melons, cherimoya or other exotics could be just a few products that through close collaboration in the supply chain and with the support of marketing could rise to even greater heights than the persimon.
The UK’s retailers and importers should also rise to the challenge and take advantage of their well-established trading relationships with Spain’s growers, as well as their expertise and proximity to market. By working together with growers and exporters, buyers can introduce new products that excite their customers and inject much needed value into the fresh produce category.