Innovation is a key factor for companies wishing to succeed in the British market, according to one of Spain’s largest fresh produce exporters, Unica Group, which believes being open to change and responding to the latest consumer trends is of huge importance when it comes to satisfying UK sourcing requirements. Produce Business UK speaks with business development manager Diego Calderón to discover how the Spanish company is keeping up with the times
With sales recorded at over €150m (£113m) in 2014, Almería-based Unica is Spain’s second-largest fresh vegetable exporter, as well as the principal supplier of Spanish melons and watermelons to European markets.
This season (2015/16), the company expects to achieve a turnover of more than €250m (£189m), marketing 260,000 tonnes of fresh products, of which over 90% were exported.
Although it ranks behind Germany and the Scandinavian countries, the UK – alongside France – is one of Unica’s principal export destinations, receiving significant volumes of cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell and chile peppers from the company.
“The British market is very important for us,” says Unica’s business development manager Diego Calderón. “It is a very demanding market, but a very interesting one as well; they are always looking for new products to try and satisfy consumer demands. It’s a challenge that we like and with which we feel comfortable because innovation is one of our principal selling points.”
Calderón explains that Unica seeks to innovate by looking for products where it understand there is high demand. “We base this fundamentally on convenience and taste,” he says.
As such, Unica is increasingly diversifying into convenience and snack products, many of which are marketed under its ‘Ready, Veggie, Go’, ‘Ready, Veggie, Dip’ and ‘Ready,Veggie, Grill’ lines.
“In the case of the UK market, as well as fresh snacking products, we are continuing to develop our range of hot chile peppers and are focusing on innovative melon varieties that feature a sweet taste, crunchier texture and an improved shelf-life,” he adds.
Keeping up with the UK
Calderón argues that being open to innovation is absolutely vital when it comes to working successfully with the UK market, although he also stresses that having sufficient volumes and a wide enough product range to meet demand are equally important.
“The first step to succeeding in the UK market is being open to innovation, as well having enough volumes and the possibility of having enough products to supply desired volumes during the greater part of the year with the quality the market demands,” he says.
In this sense, he says Unica is now better able to cater to UK demand having recently added to its group of companies a new network of producers in Almería and Murcia (Parafruts and Agrolevante) who can offer citrus, stonefruit (including peaches, apricots and nectarines), lettuce and brassicas.
“Innovation, as much in the search for new products, and the development of new formats and means of consumption continues to be one of the principal facets of Unica’s identity,” he says. “Although these do not represent huge volumes, these products bring us closer to the consumer as a result of their high level of convenience, ease of use and flavour.”
While he admits the UK market remains challenging, Calderón is keen to emphasise that Unica’s British clients are no more demanding than the majority of the group’s customers, citing the Scandinavian region and the US as examples of demanding markets where the group is successfully marketing its products.
Supplier cooperation required
With southern Spain having faced unseasonably high temperatures over recent weeks, Calderón admits that the most recent winter vegetable campaign has not been a good one for producers across the region.
However, the companies that are continuing to thrive, he says, are those like Unica that are able to come together and benefit from a clear strategy. Nonetheless, Calderón says greater cooperation is required between Spanish growers in order to achieve better prices for all who operate within the sector.
“There is always pressure from the retailers, but we need to come together because we are the ones that dominate the fresh produce market during the winter months and the lack of union means that we ourselves are stopping us achieving better prices,” he argues.
In order to work out how prices have evolved and compare one year against another, Calderón says growers need to look at their income over the last three years, the average price during the season, the profitability of each hectare and what they received per kilo in the end.
“In this way, in a transparent form, we can prove that those that commit to coming together and have a clear strategy come out better than average,” he concludes.
Unica comprises nine cooperatives in Almeria, Granada and Murcia: Cabasc, Casur, Cohorsan, Cota 120, El Grupo, Ferva, Parque Natural, Agrolevante and Parafruts.
Read other articles in our Sourcing Spotlight on Spain: