The newly-formed Egyptian Growers’ Organization (EGO) claims to be a unique grower alliance of five companies specialising in the production of 10 fruits and vegetables from grapes to green beans spread strategically across the country. With aspirations of becoming a fully-fledged grower cooperative, EGO is looking for buyer partners in countries including the UK to work with on large volume, direct supplies or contract production
“EGO started as an idea among four growers in Egypt back in January 2015 who saw the potential to combine efforts and supply high quality crops directly to supermarkets or importers in Europe and across the world via a professional and organised approach,” EGO’s chief executive officer (CEO), Khaled El-Haggan, tells Produce Business UK.
“Our objective is twofold: firstly, to try to deliver the growers more value and better returns to incentivise the production of higher quality crops; and secondly, to provide the customer – UK supermarkets, for example – a direct relationship with growers that cuts out the different middle layers, saving time and cost.”
Marei Orchards & Nursery
Unlike other Egyptian fruit and vegetable growers or exporters, El-Haggan says EGO – as far as he’s aware – is the only group of producers in Egypt to band together to export and support each other as a unit, while also benefitting from production spread across different climate zones. Over the next couple of years EGO aims to welcome more growers to establish a cooperative.
“We offer a range of major benefits,” he points out. “We produce certain crops at times [of the year] that are unique to Egypt; we can already supply some products all year-round; we are one entity which is easier than dealing with five to six suppliers individually; and we are quick to market as we have shorter transit times than South Africa or Brazil, which hopefully reduces cost. In return, buyers can offer their consumers the right product, at the right time and hopefully at the right price.”
In addition, EGO can manage contract production of specific crops for customers such as supermarkets or importers, and handle as much or as little of the export process as required. El-Haggan says the organisation has already done this for sweetcorn and jalapeño chillies, and is currently negotiating with a UK company about growing its own variety of strawberry on EGO’s land.
As well as his role as CEO of EGO, El-Haggan is chairman and founder of the Haggan Group, a holding company established in 2013 to supply grapes, pomegranates, mangoes, dates, onions, garlic and pumpkin from its 215-acre farm in Wadi El Natroon – a desert reclaimed area located almost 100km from Cairo.
His background, however, is in global IT and telecommunications, having worked in a number of countries around the world. And he’s not alone. Many of EGO’s members are operated by those with previous careers in the corporate world, and it’s precisely this alternative experience to the traditional route into agriculture which El-Haggan believes gives EGO its competitive edge.
“We have a very strong business attitude and we are focused on delivering what the customer needs,” he says. “We understand the importance of putting in place the quality and efficiency processes, as well as the right people, throughout the supply chain in order to deliver what the market requires.”
El-Haggan says sadly there are some growers in Egypt who do not fully understand this market-driven approach and have delivered poor quality crops as a result. “I have received emails from clients in Europe and the Americas who say they do not trust Egyptians,” he claims. “That hurts me – you cannot judge everyone because one person does something wrong. You just need to find the right partner.
“What we [at EGO] want to do is communicate with buyers, meet with them and define plans together. We’d like to see more of a binding of relations with the UK because we believe we can deliver the right quality. Once we have trialled one or two containers and developed the right formula, we can go from there. Business partnerships should be developed together to be a win-win for everyone.”
Khaled El-Haggan, chairman
Ahmed Abdel Razek, vice-chairman
Louay El-Kot, vice-chairman
Mohamed Odeissy, vice-chairman
Currently, there are five agricultural companies incorporated into EGO, following the recent incorporation of its fifth member. They include: Amza Farm, Odeissy Farm, K&S Agro, Marei Orchards & Nursery and Haggan Farm. The Haggan Group is operating as EGO’s export arm for the time being.
Combined, the members own seven farms stretching across 900 hectares from Egypt’s Upper Nile to the Nile Delta, and specialise in the production of 10 fruits and vegetables from grapes to green beans.
In turn, EGO is a member of both Egypt’s main fresh produce organisations – the Agricultural Export Council (AEC) and its twin, the Horticultural Export Improvement Association (HEIA).
Officially established in December 2015, and with a website still under construction, El-Haggan says EGO aims to quadruple its exports to US$4 million (£2.8m) this year alone. Over time, by adding more partners, the association plans to further add to its supply capacity both in terms of volume and product range. For instance, the organisation is currently trialling passion fruit and is eager to start with figs.
“The five growers operate across the whole geographical area of Egypt – from Luxor in the south to Alexandria in the north,” El-Haggan explains. “Our lands have different climate zones and soils, which allows us to produce at different times of the year.”
El-Haggan says EGO’s ultimate goal is to export a range of products, each with year-round availability. “We are there already with one or two crops – pumpkin and green beans we can offer for 12 months of the year – and we are putting in place a plan to start plantations on different farms with complementary production at different periods of the year.”
EGO’s product portfolio
In particular, he says EGO is keen to bring forward Egyptian grape availability to late April. “Already, Egypt offers high quality grapes to the European market at a unique time from mid-May to mid-June. We are doing a lot of studies and trials to try to produce grapes from the end of April, which is a week or two before the current production time. We believe in three years or so we will achieve this.”
Depending on demand, EGO claims it can easily expand production of a number of crops, thanks to its availability of land, its ability to acquire hectares and plans to bring in more growers. “We have around 850ha under production and we can reach 1,000ha very easily,” reveals El-Haggan. “We still have some lands unused and neighbouring land that we can acquire.”
Already, he says EGO can “easily produce” 12,000 tonnes of grapes per season, including Sugraone, Flame, Crimson, Ara 15, Red Globe and shortly Prime too. In the space of two years, however, that volume could double.
In pumpkins, El-Haggan says EGO has the capacity to increase its volume fourfold, and can ramp up its green bean production too. In May EGO will have 1,500t of onions ready for shipment, plus 100 tonnes of garlic available in a week or so, which could rise to 400t.
Products on offer for the UK
In terms of supplying the UK, EGO has its sights set on developing a trade with grapes, pomegranates, dates, mangoes, pumpkin and green beans. Last year the association exported six containers of grapes to the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong, which El-Haggan describes as having gone “really well”.
“The UK was the primary receiver and we’re aiming to increase our grape volume to UK,” he notes. “We want to reach the supermarkets and importers directly, and open up other opportunities that can lead to further success for EGO and our customers.”
Specifically-speaking, El-Haggan says Egyptian pomegranates (EGO can offer 116, Early Wonderful and Wonderful) would definitely be a good product for the UK market, as well as dates, particularly the Medjool variety for which he claims there is demand that EGO is keen to address.
“We also have a very nice onion that meets requirements of the UK, and we have excellent mango varieties (local and non-local) with very high quality flavour. We ran a successful trial in Germany last year when we spent a lot of time writing a whole story about our mangoes.”
In the vegetable category, El-Haggan believes EGO has very good quality pumpkins that would fit well on the UK market too, and he hopes to find demand for green beans.
“I think the potential is high for EGO in the UK,” concludes El-Haggan. “We only started last year so our efforts have been focused on testing the markets. But what we have done so far is prove that we can comply with demand and deliver the right quality, specifications, maximum pesticide residue levels, etc. EGO has acquired all the different certifications required by the UK, like GlobalGAP and BRC. Plus, we know how to do business professionally.
“This year we are focusing more seriously on exports. We went to Fruit Logistica in February and came away with many opportunities to follow up both in UK and other European countries. But we still need further communication with supermarkets and importers who really want to work in large volumes with Egypt and a partner like EGO.”