Brands in fresh citrus have been present in British daily life for decades, from Capespan’s Outspan to Israel’s Jaffa. But could there be room for another name on supermarket shelves? Spanish Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) association Cítricos Valencianos certainly thinks so, and its believes its high quality citrus range can achieve just that
Speaking from his office in Spain’s coastal city of Valencia, the managing director of the PGI regulatory body, José Enrique Sanz, laments that to date no UK grocery retailer has adopted the Valencian brand for its Spanish citrus, although he remains hopeful.
“Currently, no British supermarket chain has elected to feature a Valencian citrus brand among its range – an added value that is already appreciated by retail chains in other European countries,” he says.
“Supermarket chains not just in Spain, but across Europe are choosing to offer an alternative in their ranges via a product that offers high quality and is certified at origin by the Valencian regional government,” comments Sanz.
“From my point of view, this is an opportunity which is not being exploited [in the UK] because the great majority of British consumers do recognise the added value that Valencian citrus delivers.”
Sanz explains that the British market is already of huge importance to citrus growers in Valencia. He describes it as a destination that greatly values internal and external fruit quality, good sizes and a strong presentation; all factors which he claims are very apparent in citrus from the region.
“The UK is a market where the supermarket chains carry a very significant weight and, as a result, it is viewed by the Valencian citrus sector as one of the most important for our exports,” he says.
But Sanz also admits that the UK is a challenging place where competition can have a major impact on fruit prices and quality offered. “We have to recognise that the UK is a very competitive market where there exists a lot of competition in the citrus category from other countries,” he says. “This often results in a lowering of the bar of quality and, of course, the price.”
At the current time, the Navel group of oranges – especially Navelina, Navel and Late Lane – and in particular satsumas in the easy peeler category account for the bulk of Valencia’s citrus exports to the UK. Satsuma is one product which sets the British market apart from the rest of Europe, since the variety’s persistent appeal means that its sales are worth as much, if not more, than the rest of the clementine category, according to Sanz.
“The UK is a very interesting market for our citrus and it is worth taking advantage of its potential as much as possible,” he says. For this reason, Sanz believes that one of the principal challenges, not just for Cítricos Valencianos, but for Valencian citrus exporters as a whole is to continue to position their products prominently in the UK. This can be achieved, he argues, through the creation of a promotional strategy that sets Valencia citrus apart from products from other sources.
“One of our biggest challenges is to highlight our exports to the UK by continuing to create a brand image in this market and consolidating the commercial relationships that the Valencian citrus sector has with the big UK supermarket chains,” Sanz adds.
Growing demand elsewhere
Indeed, such is Valencia’s reputation that demand is rising in various other export markets. Over the last 12 months, Sanz says citrus production and exports from the eastern Spanish region have continued to develop positively, despite a 20% drop in overall volume caused by climatic difficulties of late. Drought conditions in particular over recent months have proven challenging for growers throughout southern areas of Spain as a whole.
For Cítricos Valencianos itself, the period has also been largely positive, with the sales of PGI-certified citrus increasing by 10% compared with the year before. Moreover, Sanz says the increasing level of internationalisation of Valencia’s citrus sector has been reflected in growing demand in new export markets, in particular in Canada, the Middle East and Asia.
However, he admits the shortage of product is having an impact on this year’s campaign, with fruit prices expected to rise during the latter half of the season as a result of reduced availability.
“Customers from regular markets know prices will increase during the second part of the campaign, and those from new markets are conscious that importing Valencian citrus before June will be more complicated,” Sanz says. The result of this, he reveals, is that many clients are looking ahead instead to the next season.
Exports in 2015 were also affected negatively by strong competition from countries such as Egypt and Morocco, which Sanz claims enter the European Union with little in the way of phytosanitary controls, and profit from insignificant production costs; a situation which he argues amounts to “dumping”.