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Fruit growers demand fair share of profits amid rising production costs

08:59 08/02/2023

A convoy of about 50 tractors driven by fruit growers from across Belgium descended on Brussels this week to call for a greater share of the profit margins generated by the sale of apples and pears in the nation’s supermarkets.

Speaking in Auderghem outside the headquarters of Comeos, the Belgian Federation for Commerce and Services, fruit grower Xavier Laduron said that there was more than enough money being made to ensure that producers could have their fair share without costing consumers more.

“Fruit that leaves us, priced at €0.50 per kilo, ends up at €2 for the consumer,” he told RTBF. “The margins are available. The consumer does not need to pay more for Belgian fruit. It’s sufficient that the margins are distributed equitably between each actor in the sector."

Growers poured crates of apples over Comeos’s doorstep in protest of what a number of farmers are describing as a growing crisis for the industry.

Production costs for apples and pears have risen sharply since last year due to the increasing cost of electricity, which producers need to keep the fruit refrigerated throughout winter.

Faced with unsustainable costs, some growers are choosing instead to tear down their apple trees rather than sell their crop at a loss. Some 15% of apple plantations across Belgium have already been uprooted this winter, according to Bel RTL.

Jean-Luc Dardenne, a producer from Meeffe, Liège province, told RTBF that local producers were being shunned in favour of foreign imports.

"We have always produced apples in Belgium,” he said. “We are recognised worldwide for our production of apples and pears. It’s nonsense not to produce here and to bring in apples from New Zealand, South Africa or elsewhere instead. From an ecological point of view, where are we going?”

Comeos chief executive Dominique Michel denied that Belgian supermarkets were choosing to stock imported produce over locally grown fruit.

“We are the best partners of Belgian fruit growers,” he said. “No less than 93% of the pears on the shelves of our supermarkets are of Belgian origin, and for apples it is 68%.”

Comeos said the price drop in locally grown produce stemmed in part from the collapse of the Russian and Ukrainian export markets as a result of the fighting between the two nations. The statement cited a study by the Price Observatory that put the profit margin in Belgian fruit trade at just 1.29%.

“Unfortunately there is very little in the way of margins to go in the direction of what is being asked,” Michel said.

A consultation between Comeos and the producers is currently being planned to address the growers’ complaints.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

Written by Paul Millar