Greek Business File, June-July-August 2020, No 126
By Symela Touchtidou
There are opportunities in every crisis. The coronavirus pandemic crisis is no exception. While most economic sectors, globally, suffer because of the pandemic, some thrive thanks to it. The best example in Greece are fruits and vegetables exports
The pandemic started a global discussion on the lifestyle factors that determine whether a person gets sick or remains healthy.
On top of the agenda, the fact that there is a direct relationship between one’s diet and health. Nutrition has been acknowledged as a key player when it comes to physical and mental well-being.
Number one on the list of “Tips for maintaining a healthy diet” of the World Health Organization is to “Eat a variety of food, including fruits and vegetables”.
A planet turning to health diet
On April 14, 2020 the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article under the title “Nutritional recommendations for Covid-19 quarantine”. There it notes that “the Mediterranean Diet pattern could represent a healthy nutritional pattern to be followed in quarantine. Key ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich legumes, fish, and whole grains with moderate amounts of wine and red meat.”
UNICEF in an article on “Easy, affordable and healthy eating tips during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak” stresses that “it’s important to ensure children are getting plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet.”
“We all know that the Mediterranean diet –packed with fi sh, vegetables and olive oil– is good for us. The eating regime, originating out of Italy and Greece, has long been linked to longevity” says Yahoo Life in its piece (April 13, 2020) on the merits of the Mediterranean diet. The article presents a recent study on the benefi ts of the Mediterranean diet to brain function.
Google Trends shows that interest in “coronavirus vitamin C” reached a crescendo by the end of March.
Sales of products that constitute the Mediterranean diet have soared, as consumers are looking to get more vitamins in their diet and thus protect themselves against the pandemic.
Exports from Italy and Spain have plummeted due to the extended confinement measures imposed in the two countries and so Greek fruits and vegetables are gaining a foothold in more European markets.
“In the first quarter of 2020, Greek exports of fresh fruits and vegetables rose by 31.3% in value and by 17.5% in volume compared to the same period last year” notes the Association of Greek Enterprises of Fruits and Vegetables Export and Distribution, Incofruit-Hellas.
“Exports reached a total amount of 440.56 thousand tons and 326.6 million euro, according to the latest data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority.”
Potatoes have made an impressive performance. Demand typically rises in spring, but this year, with people staying at home and cooking more, it exceeded expectations. Favorable weather conditions have helped Greek farmers harvest potatoes of exceptional quality and the demand from Europeans keeps rising.
Appetite for peppers has also skyrocketed, taking prices up with it. Rich in vitamin C, they recorded an over 40% rise in exports the fi rst quarter of the year.
Next on double digit exports increase come strawberries, followed by oranges, lemons, kiwis and mandarins (14%).
“Tasty, crunchy, good looking”
Exports of Greek fruits and vegetables have been rising for many years, Giorgos Polichronakis told Business File.
“In 2019, we reached a record high number. International markets acknowledge that our products are tasty, crunchy, good looking. Year by year, Greek products get a higher share of the international consumer market. This happens especially in European supermarkets, that control about 70% of the overall European retail market. The trend continued in 2020. Prices have risen. Data of March show an increase of exports volume by 17% and an increase in value of more than 30%. In some cases, for example in oranges, exports volume increased by about 25% but exports value increased by 45%.”
The positive trend received further boost thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first coronavirus outbreak left consumers looking for fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for the ones that provide vitamins. From Greece, demand rose for oranges (for their vitamins), apples and pears (because they are easy to store), peppers (because they contain lots of vitamin C)” says G. Polichronakis. “Now we see demand rise for strawberries, too, for their high content of vitamin C. This explains the high prices of the fruit both in Greek and European markets.
For us, the main goal is to gain more markets, but at the same time to get better prices for our products. To achieve this goal, we must off er quality products. So, we already follow all the required protocols for standardization and packaging. For example, we see that the global trend is to consume products offered in closed packages. The reason for that is that the industry seeks to exclude any possibility of contamination at any step of the supply chain.
Our exports follow exactly this trend. We have adjusted our standardization process. Once collected from the field, our fruits and vegetables are thoroughly washed, disinfected, dried up, separated for different use according to their size and finally packaged. The packaging provides all information needed and the trailing of the product all the way from the field to the final consumer.
This is why we see Greek products becoming more popular lately, especially in the West World countries. This trend will prevail in the coming years, it is not just a product of the coronavirus crisis.”
The kiwi “stellar” trading
A decade ago, practically nobody outside Greece had even heard of Greek kiwis.
Their production keeps growing for the past five years and it is expected to keep rising in the coming ones.
It makes absolute sense: the country enjoys perfect weather conditions for their cultivation. Greek kiwis are believed to have ideal organoleptic properties.
For kiwis, in particular, this has been an exceptional year. Week after week, exports have been reaching new highs, bringing total exports to a 27% rise compared to last year.
It is the best performance of the kiwis exports ever recorded.
“This cultivation is one of the most dynamic in Greece” Zisis Manosis, kiwi producer and member of the Greek Informal Interprofessional Kiwi Group, told Business File.
“Greece is becoming the second biggest player of the market in the North Hemisphere, an alternative supplier to Italy that dominated the market until recently.
Greek farmers took advantage of the production decline in Italy. In Italy, adverse weather conditions and disease have caused a severe drop of harvest. Greek farmers “jumped in” to fill the gap in the market.
Greek kiwi production has multiplied in the past five years from 10-15 thousand tons a year to more than 200,000 tons. More than 90% of this production is exported. The main reason of our success is the fact that Greek companies have become more reliable and professional. They are better organized, they abide by the timelines set by their customers, mainly the supermarket chains, and they can provide products for more months. For chain stores it is very important to keep the products coming in for a period of four to six months. For the Greek farmer, kiwis are a profi table business: they can produce large quantities and sell them for 50-60 cents per kilo, one of the best prices in the market.”
We asked how the coronavirus pandemic affected kiwi sales. It seems that kiwis are greatly appreciated in Europe, especially for their vitamins.
“Kiwis are rich in vitamin C” says Zisis Manosis. “They contain more vitamin C than oranges do. With all the talk about how vitamin C protects the immune system especially from viruses, people’s interest in kiwis rose. Consumers turned to them for health reasons, the same way they did with oranges. European consumers know the nutritional value of kiwis. Retail chains promote kiwis. On the package identification, they add the note that 80 grams of kiwi contain more vitamin C than the recommended daily intake. Plus, kiwis do not have high measurable pesticide residues. Contrary to other fruits, their trees do not attract many pests, so farmers do not need to make extended use of pesticides to grow them. This is another important factor that makes them an attractive, healthy food.”
Light in a gloomy landscape
Lockdowns, border crossing disruptions, and the general sense of instability and uncertainty have caused global retail demand to plummet.
European markets, the main export destination of the Greek products, were particularly hit. This resulted in a negative first quarter for the Greek exports, erasing the upwards path of the previous months.
Overall, Greek exports were down 0.3% in the quarter from January to March 2020. But in this gloomy landscape, the sectors of Oil and Food & Live Animals stand out.
Oil exports skyrocketed by 61%. Food & Live Animals exports recorded a 18% increase in the fi rst quarter of the year (source: Panhellenic Exporters Association, PEA)
The president of the Panhellenic Exporters Association Board, Christina Sakellaridis, notes that it is crucial at this point to keep the goods moving to safeguard and extend market access in the future.
“Greek exporters are struggling to cope with the unprecedented conditions created by the pandemic and to continue to supply international markets” C. Sakellaridis said in a statement. “It is critical at this time to keep the supply chains open and to fulfil orders from abroad, especially in the food and fresh fruit and vegetable category”.
Looking to the future
“Fruits and vegetables are among the most important, dynamic and exportsoriented sectors of the Greek economy. At the end of the current health and economic crisis, they will be the main pillar of return to normalcy” notes the Greek Exporters Association (SEVE).
The Research and Studies Institute of SEVE points out that demand for highquality foods and for products with high nutritional value, which increased during the current health crisis, makes Greek fruits and vegetables coveted in international markets.
Still, to fully make use of the favorable trend, Greek producers need to adapt to the regulatory framework set by the European Union for the common organization of the agricultural products markets.
It is imperative that the sector overcomes its structural vulnerability (too many small-sized farms that depend on labor-intensive services) and its weak organization (fragmented export networks, preference to exporting raw material). Also, it is imperative to adopt innovation to be able to respond to consumer needs.
Most importantly, Greek producers need to build modern processing facilities to safeguard quality and freshness from the field to the supermarket shelf. “One of the most significant problems in the industry remains the false register of the fresh fruits and vegetables origins. This results in the loss of their “national identity”. Furthermore, there is illegal distribution of unregistered fruit and vegetables, especially to neighboring EU countries. These hurt state revenues, competition and the very industry itself, its exports and its overall production” stresses the Research and Studies Institute of SEVE.