Belgium broadens its range and expands the season of fresh produce

Thu 16/01/2020 by Richard Wilkinson
Belgium broadens its range and expands the season of fresh produce

The international business of fresh fruits and vegetables is always the result of the game of nature, influenced by market evolutions, such as sunburst, hail damage, trade agreements and an upcoming Brexit. Lots of uncertainties that may affect the trade of fresh produce. But Belgian suppliers always look for the best solution to meet the demands of their international customers. Their personal service and flexibility are after all part of the DNA of a Belgian entrepreneur. Also, Belgian producers are focusing on a high and uniform quality level and invest in production methods to minimise the effect of fluctuating weather conditions, e.g. covered fruit production, LED greenhouse production, and the development of new varieties.

Belgian vegetables: specialties and year-round production on the rise

In 2018, total Belgian vegetable production reached over 1.6 million tons, 23% of which was accounted for by greenhouse production. In 2020, the Flandria label celebrates its 25th birthday. And because standing still is going backwards, this year the Flandria partners are rethinking the label to be ready for the future. The key focus remains the quality of the products. Thanks to the intense cooperation of the Belgian auctions, customers can count on a wide and uniform supply of Belgian vegetables. For example, there is an annual research programme that determines which varieties can be offered in a certain Flandria segment. In addition to taste and shelf life, colour, for example, is also a decisive criterion in the selection. With Belgian tomatoes, customers can f.i. always count on a beautiful deep red colour.
Consumers who look for an extra taste experience usually make a choice among the specialties. As a result, the acreage of tomato specialities is growing strongly and now amounts to more than 100 ha. In addition to the evolution towards specialities, the Belgian production sector is also committed to expanding the season. This year, the illuminated cultivation already amounts to 25% of the tomato production, accounting for 120 ha.

Fruit production is widening 

Belgian fruit production focuses on pears, apples and strawberries and still remains a leading player on the international fruit market.

Belgian strawberries are doing well, as we see production rise with 5%. And also the wider berry assortment is growing on a healthy speed. These high-value products are increasingly produced in a covered way, limiting the influence of weather conditions and extending the season.

For apples & pears the production is mainly in open field. Although the top fruit sector has been hit pretty hard by difficult climatic circumstances, apple production is back to what it was in 2016 and overcame the sharp decrease of 2017.

The pear production suffered less from the frost and had a rather normal season. Last year, the country’s pear production rose to around 10,000 ha, representing 15,5% of total European pear production.

The Belgian apple basket is diversifying strongly, to meet the different costumer’s preferences. The pear market is smaller, and Belgium is well known for its famous Conference pears. They are an especially well-known Belgian specialty, as Belgian producers can produce the Conference variety on a very efficient way. Thanks to its long shelf life and long storage possibilities, this pear offers interesting opportunities for the trade. About 88% of Europe’s pear production is concentrated in only six countries: Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Portugal. Total European pear production was estimated at 2,4 million tons in 2018, an increase of 6% in comparison with 2017. The Belgian market share has been increasing since 2010, to eventually hit a 15% mark and stabilized since 2014. Moreover, this year Belgium is looking at a 15,5% share.

More export volume

Since the Russian ban, the Belgian fruit sector is working hard to increase exports to other and new markets and this is paying off; the pear industry was able to stabilize their export  in 2018  and again in the first 9 months of 2019.

The situation was less positive for apples in 2017 due to the bad weather conditions. Nonetheless, the export is picking up in 2019 and export volumes rose with 68% in the first 9 months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018.  It’s clear that apples and pears remain Belgium’s key export fruits.

Within the Belgian export of fresh vegetables, tomatoes are the top products. Also Belgian leeks, cucumbers, cabbages and bell peppers are highly demanded in other countries. Generally speaking, export of Belgian fresh vegetables is on the rise again after a cautious 2018 with higher prices, which slowed trade. 2019 is already looking good, we notice a 17% increase for the first nine months of 2019, compared to the same period of 2018, mainly fuelled by rising exports of tomatoes, leek and chicory.

Belgian fresh fruits more popular in Eastern Europe

The main export markets for Belgian fresh fruit in 2018 are the European markets (94%), with its neighbouring countries making up the top 4. In the period January till September 2019, Belgium’s first export destination for fresh fruit was The Netherlands (21%). France came second (17%), closely followed by Germany (15%) and the United Kingdom (12%).

Remarkable within the Belgian export of fresh fruit in 2018 is the strong rise of the Eastern European markets, represented mainly by Estonia and Lithuania; which are respectively taking 5th and 6th place. When we compare the first nine months of 2018 and 2019, we can see that the fruit export to Lithuania increased with 5%. Exports to Estonia even nearly double in volume. And also Spain is jumping on the bandwagon with a double digit growth, clearly enchanted by our Belgian apples. But also markets further away, like China and Brazil, are getting more important for our Belgian fruit exporters. This is due to the success of the conference pear in this region and promotional campaigns to these markets are clearly showing results.

France and Holland top vegetable markets

With a share of 99%, we can say that for the Belgian export of fresh vegetables the European markets remain the most important in 2018. And in particular our neighbouring countries, which account for 82% of our export volumes. The Netherlands are the main market for Flandria vegetables (28% in the period January till September 2019), before France (25%) and Germany (20%). Luxemburg (6%) notes a sudden increase in demand for Belgian vegetables and now occupies fourth place. The United Kingdom (5%) and Spain (5%) complete the top 5 with a shared place. Also for Belgian vegetables  the demand from the Eastern European markets is rising; especially in Poland and Czech Republic. Main markets within the third countries are the United States and Switzerland.

Belgian fresh imports remain stable 

Belgium is an important producer of strawberries, apples and pears, and is net exporter for these products. The imported volumes are mainly originating from the Netherlands. For tropical fruits however, Belgium has to import from third countries, like Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador. With our international Port of Antwerp and our international Airport in Brussels, Belgium has fluent connections with production areas and trade all over the world.

For fresh vegetables Belgium is a net importer, as there, our important industry of frozen vegetables demands more than the country can produce. The Netherlands, Spain and France are by far the main suppliers. Imported products are mainly carrots, onions, peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cabbages.

VLAM moves together with other Belgian exhibitors to hall 27

Those who want to meet the Belgian exhibitors at Fruit Logistica will find them from 2020 in the brand new exhibition hall 27, at stand number A7 – A12. The exhibition organiser is starting a renewal process, which means that VLAM and other Belgian exhibitors will have to move from their familiar spot in hall 6.2 to the new hall 27. There, the Belgian presence will be more concentrated from now on.

VLAM prepared a striking presence in hall 27 with a new exhibition concept. From now on, visitors will be welcomed in a cosy VLAM stand made of warm wood, sleek black steel and colourful images. Another new feature is that the 31 companies of potatoes, fruit & vegetables and fruit trees will from now on be all together in one VLAM pavilion. What doesn’t change is that trade relations are still welcome for a fresh Belgian beer in the VLAM booth, so from now on in hall 27!

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