In December, Dutch and Belgian strawberries didn’t meet expectations, and Moroccan and Egyptian strawberries were deemed inferior in quality. This leaves an open market for Spanish strawberries. However, challenges persist, particularly with weather extremes and water availability. Representatives from Belgian importers Van Dijk Foods and Special Fruit acknowledge these challenges, noting a growing focus on addressing them. Despite this, they agree that, for now, the focus remains on pushing forward this season.
“We received our first shipment of strawberries from Spain in late November or early December, but the supplies were quite limited,” says Henk Vlaeminck from Van Dijk Foods. The planting phase was hindered by excessive heat, which delayed cultivation. “This meant we couldn’t capitalize on the lower volumes from other sources in the market during those months. However, at the beginning of this year, the volumes increased slightly, and by mid-January, our Spanish partners were sending substantial amounts.”
Nevertheless, more Dutch and Belgian strawberries are gradually entering the market. “These were quite expensive around the holidays, but the volumes increased as the new year began, albeit still limited, resulting in roughly halved prices. It’s not always easy to compete with local offerings in those countries, but Spanish prices remain excellent. Additionally, this season, the quality of Spanish strawberries is truly outstanding,” Henk explains.
“We’ve had no issues in that regard, partly because Spanish growers are cultivating better strawberry varieties with improved quality,” explains Henk. “Until mid-January, we mainly relied on Victory, but once Calinda became available, we switched almost entirely. This has brought about a significant change in the industry. Although consumers in Belgium and the Netherlands typically prefer local produce, Calinda has proven to be a fantastic alternative. It can compete well in other markets.”
Polina Valkanova from Special Fruit also notices this trend. The company primarily uses Calinda strawberries during the Spanish season, having previously worked with Victory, Candela, and Arwen. They eagerly awaited volumes from southern Europe in January. “December was tough for imported strawberries. Morocco and Egypt didn’t meet quality expectations, so buyers were eager for the Spanish season to start. When those volumes hit the market, they were well received,” she says.
Special Fruit’s main markets include Scandinavia, the Baltics, and the Benelux. “While Belgian and Dutch consumers and traders usually prefer local strawberries, Spanish strawberries, especially Calinda, can still compete effectively when Dutch or Belgian volumes increase from mid-April onwards. Despite the challenge of competing with local produce, especially in Scandinavia, our customers often remain loyal to Calinda due to its favorable price-quality ratio.”
As Spanish strawberries continue to solidify their market presence, concerns about extreme weather in Southern Europe are on the rise. The constant threat of water scarcity poses a significant challenge to crops, as scorching heat alternates rapidly with heavy downpours, potentially causing significant disruptions to Spanish horticulture. Polina explains that initial strawberry volumes are lower than in the past two years and even below the 10-year average, likely due to the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns can disrupt the growing, flowering, and harvesting periods of strawberries, potentially affecting the length of the season.
The issue of water availability has become so critical that some Spanish regions may cease water pumping, and German consumer organizations have even initiated boycotts against strawberries from Andalusia. However, Polina remains optimistic, noting that growers are actively seeking solutions for more resilient strawberry crops. In response to the increasing pressure on water resources, some Spanish growers have invested in innovative watering techniques such as drip irrigation to optimize water usage and enhance resource efficiency.
“Our growers in the Huelva region benefit from favorable conditions for strawberry production,” says Polina. “We work closely with a select group of growers committed to sustainability and responsible water management, evidenced by their ‘Spring certificate’ or ongoing certification process.”
“With water scarcity becoming increasingly challenging in Spanish strawberry production, Huelva’s climate and soil conditions play a vital role in optimizing water use,” Polina notes. “Despite the growing problem, we remain optimistic about the future of Spanish strawberry cultivation,” she concludes. Henk adds, “The sector has undergone a transformation, prioritizing quality, enabling Spanish strawberries to remain competitive.”