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From the fertile fields of Flanders come Europe's most prized vegetables.

While Holland is Europe's most productive potato patch, Belgium is the Continent's greenest vegetable garden. Indeed, figures tabulated by a Dutch market research organization put Belgian production of frozen vegetables at nearly 400,000 tons out of 1.5 million tons packed in total throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia. France and the UK are tied for second in output, at 290,000 tons each. The Netherlands accounts for about 100,000 tons.

Vegetable farmers in the Benelux reaped healthy harvests of most key crops during 1992. Peas, beans and cauliflower were in good supply thanks to ideal growing conditions kicked off by a warm spring. The same could not be said in the drought-withered fields of northern and eastern Europe. Pea harvests in Scandinavia were off by some 40%. Pea, bean and cauliflower yields were poor for farmers in Poland, who dubbed July and August as the "Sahara Summer." Growers in Hungary and Germany didn't fare much better, as rain came too late.

Among the Belgian packers especially busy this autumn was Pinguin NV of Westrozebeke, which processed 50,000 tons of various vegetables. Notwithstanding such heavy volume, Herwig Dejonghe described the Flanders area crop as no better than normal.

"It is not true that stocks are abundant," he told Quick Frozen Foods International magazine. "Instead, there may be just a little more than usual because of more acreage that was cultivated. Shortages in eastern Europe lead us to not expect an excessive market in the long-term, although this will depend on winter consumption."

Dejonghe went on to say that the yields of several vegetable varieties were disappointing: "Green kale and savoy cabbage were off, and the autumn crop of cauliflower was 30% short."

Meanwhile, Pinguin has invested in a new freezing tunnel that can process up to eight tons per hour. Also installed was a portioning line for leaf spinach, It made better sense to spend money on plant and equipment than to build another coldstore that would be used only three months a year, explained Dejonghe, Public refrigerated warehouses are being tapped to take up any overcapacity at harvestime.

The Pinguin executive cited the introduction of new packaging labels as the company's most important innovation of the year. It incorporates easy-to-identify vegetable pictograms designed to reduce human error in coldstore picking or further distribution throughout multi-lingual markets served. A sliced bean master pack, for example, features an artist's depiction of a knife blade cutting through the vegetable. Large bold face type, which can be clearly seen from a distance of 10 meters, provides additional information.

Dejonghe expressed optimism about further growth of the frozen vegetable market in Europe. "You would be surprised at how many people still do not know bow to use them," he commented. "But over time the Iglos and Finduses will educate everybody. Then per capita consumption will jump."

When that happens Pinguin will be well poised to send more tonnage through its pipeline. Specializing in both branded and own label products, the company works with the Albert Fisher Group in Britain, Esti Tiefkuhlkose in Germany, Gelfreez Bologne in Italy, PIR Trading in Denmark and Magalos in Greece. Accounts in Australia and the Far East are looked after by Vanhuystee in Leeuwarden, Holland.


Another Belgian supplier of frozen vegetables is Ardooie-based Ardovries. Following the recent acquisition of Acquitaine Legumes Surgeles (ALS) in south-west France, annual production reportedly rose to about 95,000 tons. The French connection is being run as a joint venture with three other concerns - Avril, Maisadour and Le Valdour.

Up to half of Ardovries' output is packed under private labels, with the remainder carrying Ardo and sister company Hesbayefrost brands. Primary markets are in the UK, Germany and France, with Spain coming on strong. Exports are also shipped to Italy, Greece, Holland, Scandinavia and Japan.

Jan Haspeslach, general manager, described present market conditions as healthy, with good prospects for steady growth thanks to new EEC regulations regarding permitted bacteriological levels. Wholesomely produced and preserved frozen products can only increase in demand as a result of stricter food laws, he said.

Ardovries' Belgian factories specialize in processing such items as carrots, cauliflower, sprouts, korabi and whole beans. The French operation - a former canner now sporting a brand new freezing and packaging line, as well as coldstore - handles broccoli, corn, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and hybrid whole beans. Some 30 million French francs have been invested in the project.

Sales manager Roger Maes noted that corn mixes are gaining in popularity throughout much of Europe. "Kernel corn is still considered to be exotic on the Continent," he said. "We used to import it from Israel, Hungary and America, but now we are growing it ourselves."

The Ardo label can be found on soups produced for the catering sector, as well as creamed vegetables such as spinach and leeks, plus red cabbage and apples. For the Japanese, Parisienne carrots, beans and peppers are increasingly supplied.

"Japan is only a niche market," explained Maes. "There is still a lot of business yet to develop in Europe, both east and west. Look at Spain, which used to be a big exporter of vegetables to the Benelux. Now we are selling to them."

When asked what set Ardovries apart from many of its global competitors, Haspeslach replied: "We are producers, not traders. We market what we pack, not that which somebody else turns out."


Begro Frozen Foods is another Ardooie-headquartered vegetable producer. With some 75% of its business in private label, the company's retail-oriented line runs the gamut from baby carrots and leek rings to whole beans, leaf spinach, brussels sprouts, garden peas, ratatouille and a variety of mixes.

Carrots have been selling particularly well, said Gerard Vullers, sales manager. Some blends have gained in popularity, but this does not necessarily result in greater overall volume because when one mix increases in sales it is often at the expense of another.

A full range of 1,000 gram (2.2 lbs.) polybags is offered under the Begro label. Distribution throughout the Benelux is handled by the company's refrigerated truck fleet, while specialist transporters make deliveries further afield.

Begro added a third factory production line last year, boosting capacity to 24,000 tons. A new coldstore came on line in October, providing an additional 4,000 cubic meters of space - some 45% of which will be used exclusively to warehouse carrots.
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Title Annotation:News from Europe; Belgian vegetable production
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:We know who's producing all those spuds, but who is eating - and not eating - them?
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