Let the Sun Shine and the Rain Fall: But Please, Not Too Much of Either!

By John Saulnier, FFB Editorial Director

To Quote Mark Twain and/or Charles Dudley Warner of the Hartford Courant: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

frozen peasThis fall, just before the world’s leading food buyers and sellers beat a path to the SIAL exhibition in Paris, word was out about price rises in store, if not already at the door, for folks looking to purchase frozen vegetable and potato products. And if any confirmation was needed, it came in spades for those paying visits to suppliers’ booths at the show.

“The hot, dry summer in much of Europe has resulted in a significant shortage of carrots, green beans and peas. Potatoes, onions, leek and cauliflower are also problematic. So prices are going up – there’s no way around it,” said Herwig Dejonghe, managing director of Ychoux, France-based Antarctic Foods Aquitaine.

But all was not gloomy. As noted in Antarctic Foods’ recently issued Harvest Report: “By the end of August, the weather started to return to normal again and by September conditions were optimal for obtaining good quality and quantities of sweet corn and a second crop of green beans. Forecasting conditions for the end of the season is difficult, but if there will be no frost before the end of October, results for 2018 will be positive for sweet corn and beans, but problematic for carrots.”

Dejonghe’s team of agronomists was already preparing for the winter season, resuming intense production of Nanates carrots until the end of March 2019, in parallel with the production of young carrots and salsify in January.

Market analysis from Ardooie, Belgium-based Ardo, Europe’s largest producer of frozen vegetables, was similar in tone and wider in scope. Its October Actual bulletin, pointing out that 2018 was the third year in a row that farmers had to cope with pressing weather problems, said that field losses resulted in reduced and irregular supply of vegetables to processors which in turn led to increased production costs and a lessened quantity of processed product.

“Strikingly lower yields of 20% to 50% were reported for peas,” Actual stated. “The situation for beans was also alarming, with losses of up to 50%. The first harvest of beans in some southern European production areas was also affected by severe storms, floods and hail. Losses of 15% to 50% were recorded for onions. Courgettes and spinach were also affected, and in many areas there was no second harvest of spinach, beans or cauliflower due to drought.”

The Potato Patch

fries belgapomOn-stand discussions that FrozenFoodsBiz.com personnel had at SIAL with leading Belgian, Dutch, French, British and German packers of frozen potato products were also rife with complaints about warm and dry weather conditions, as drought and heat waves took severe tolls on yields and harvest quality across much of the continent.

From April to July not a drop of rain fell in some areas of Germany. The months of May and April were the hottest on record, and yields for processing potatoes were dramatically below the historic five-year average. But somehow the major french fry and potato specialty producers were managing to cope with the hand dealt by Mother Nature.

“Until recently we were still processing carryover tuber stocks from last year’s abundant harvest, but that’s done with now. Old prices are also history, as prices reflecting current reality must now be paid,” the managing director of a major frozen potato products company told this writer.

Looking ahead, he forecast that one of the biggest problems in 2019 could be the seed potato supply. “The potato industry across Europe will plant early next year, of this I am certain,” he said. “Also, there will likely be nine-month rather than 12-month contracts.”

But such is life in the always exciting frozen potato and vegetable business. Supply is in God’s hands, while demand is in the minds and appetites of mankind. As long as the foodservice sector in general and the quick service restaurant segment in particular continues to grow worldwide, all should bode well for those who sell.