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Frozen vegetable trade is stable as Europe goes free for 1993.

Growing areas in European Community complement each other, and the trend is towards rationalization of growing and marketing. Eastern Europe, so far, a non-starter.

It's 1993, and as you all know, Europe has a single market. Or at least, what we have always thought of as Europe does. There's that other part of Europe, behind what used to be the Iron Curtain. Will it become part of the European trading community -- for example in frozen vegetables?

Not soon, at least not on any large scale, predicted Herwig Dejonghe of Pinguin N.V., a major force in frozen vegetables in Western Europe. "The biggest problem with the East is that they have no sense of marketing," Dejonghe told Quick Frozen Foods International. "Last year, they had very poor crops, but they were still asking very low prices. They don't know anything about contracting in advance; they only sell after the harvest."

Free trade in Western Europe hasn't hurt business for his company, based in Belgium, or for any of the other traditional producers north of the Pyrennes. Spain, for example, can complement France and Belgium as a supplier of broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and the like that weren't being grown further north anyway. "We have no problem with the new EC members," he says; "They're a help to us." Eastern Europe, however, if it ever gets its act together, could become a competitive threat.

Market Rationalization

"As producers, we need to be very professional," Dejonghe advised. "We have to cut costs wherever we can, while maintaining and improving quality." Meanwhile, he observed, the frozen vegetable market is becoming more and more rationalized -- supermarket chains, for example, now lock in prices by contracting for their purchases before crops are planted, and the spot market traditionally exploited by speculators is declining. Speculators, he said, are happy only when there are shortages or oversupplies, and over the past year they have tried to create the feeling of an over-supply even though crops in most categories have pretty much been normal.

One bulletin from O.D.C. Oerlemans Diepvries Centrale BV, Venray, the Netherlands, detailed some crop/market trends as of the end of the year. The autumn cauliflower harvest was reported to have been "disappointing," for example, because of low temperatures and a three-week delay getting the harvest in. Still, production was called "satisfactory." Leeks were available once more, the bulletin reported, "after a long absence," but asparagus was in short supply because Chile and Peru (where the harvest takes place in November) were selling large quantities to Japan to get higher prices.

"The |potato~ harvests in all of Europe were good to very good," the same bulletin said. "The potato market has not been this unpredictable for 10 years." Oerlemans ventured that prices would begin rising slightly last month, after several months of stability. Amazingly, it was still possible to get a "sufficient" supply of frozen fruits and berries out of what used to be Yugoslavia -- but that could have changed by now and it seems hard to believe it won't change eventually. North and South America are both waiting in the wings as alternative sources, of course, but it will cost -- Chile, for example, showed up at SIAL in Paris last fall seeking "quite high prices" for its raspberries.

Statistics Shortage

Hard facts about the market are hard to come by; at press time, for example, there were still no import-export figures for frozen vegetables for any of 1992 available on microfiche from the European Community. According to Gerard van Wetten at Oerlemans, those statistics aren't reliable anyway. But the Dutch trade seems to be booming; exports of frozen vegetables from the Netherlands, which jumped 31% to more than 140,000 tons in 1991 according to those official statistics, remain strong. Indeed, Benelux generally is now the heartland of frozen vegetable production and exports in some categories: it accounted for 275,000 of the 357,000 tons of miscellaneous frozen vegetables traded internationally in 1991, 40,000 of the 56,000 tons of frozen spinach, half the 66,000 tons of frozen beans, three quarters of the 64,000 tons of mixed vegetables and 43,000 tons in miscellaneous legumes, etc.

Other countries in the EC are, as Dejonghe suggested, finding their own specialties. In frozen peas, the leading European exporters are still Denmark and Britain, which together accounted for two thirds of the 73,000-ton export trade in 1991. Spain dominates exports in sweet peppers, at 17,000 out of 28,000 tons in 1991; while France accounts for half the frozen trade at 12,000 tons for 1991; and is the largest Continental supplier of sweet corn at 13,000 out of 22,000 tons for 1991 (With Israeli production in question, domestic corn could gain -- read on.) Spain and Italy, meanwhile, are becoming substantial exporters of frozen strawberries, although the trade in that category is still dominated by Poland -- and Eastern Europe generally remains the primary source of frozen fruits and berries; Hungary is the only significant source of frozen vegetables there, however, according to Dejonghe.

Meanwhile, leading frozen vegetable packers are trying to extend their markets with a wave of new value-added products. When it comes to commodities, as Dejonghe observed, consumers buy by price -- fresh or frozen doesn't matter. Frozen vegetables, for all the talk about fresh, have been winning the battle for the last 10 years, he added. Still, whenever they're plentiful and cheap, fresh can make inroads. But you can't walk into a supermarket and buy something like fresh Kinesisk Blanding (Chinese mix) vegetables, one of a number of introductions by Danelfrost, the Danish frozen food conglomerate. Danelfrost is pushing a whole line of such value-added products, including Takari (an exotic potato-vegetable mix), Gronsags Symfoni (Vegetable Symphony), Farfalle (an Italian pasta-vegetable dish), and La Sena (a Mexican potato-vegetable blend).

These are the kinds of blends that have been a major force in the U.S. market for years but are just now really coming into their own in Europe. And the brands aren't alone in this brave new market. Under its Marco Polo banner, for example, Dansk Supermarked Indkob has launched such private label items as Toscano Pastablanding (an Italian pasta-vegetable combo) and Mexico Risblanding (a Mexican rice and vegetables blend). The same chain offers more conventional items such as broccoli and corn blends in no-name (but far from generic looking) packaging. There is also a discount Farmer Gront line of standard commodity vegetables and blends.

In Britain, meanwhile, Tendafrost is trying to reposition itself with the launch of a range of 12 items representing what was best in the old Tendafrost, Scotfresh, St. Nicholas and Smedley's lines. Commodity vegetables are being presented right next to seasonal mixes in new one-pound packages that feature vivid photographs of the products -- in the raw state wherever possible, to offer consumers a "before and after" feel -- against a creamy hessian background that strongly features the company's logo. Further introductions are expected; meanwhile, the initial line-up includes garden peas, sliced beans, whole beans, cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, button sprouts, baby carrots, button sprouts with chestnuts, button mushrooms and sweet corn. Tendafrost has also introduced a "price fighting brand" called Scottish Harvest for the catering market; it consists of nine medium-quality vegetables -- peas, sliced beans, cauliflower florets, brussels sprouts, fluted and diced carrots, mixed vegetables, macedoine and diced swede -- in 20-pound boxes.

Another frozen vegetable launch in Britain is from Shearway Foods, which is trying to develop a market for both specialty premium vegetables and stir-fry vegetable dishes. The latter range includes Oriental (eight vegetables, among them water chestnuts, mushrooms and bamboo shoots), Vegetable Rice (with bouillon seasoning) and Caribbean (including peppers, courgettes and fruit and saffron seasoning) versions. New premium vegetables being introduced this year include sliced mixed peppers, pre-cooked long-grain white rice, and a mix of petit pois and supersweet sweetcorn. The range already included items such as courgettes, mange tout and baby corn cobs as well as standard fare like garden peas and sweet corn.

Speaking of sweet corn, there are problems in Israel, a traditional source of imports for much of Europe but now hit by competition from elsewhere. Sunfrost, the principal export company, asked growers to take the hit -- by cutting their prices 16%. Rather than do that, the Vegetable Growers Association advised its members to stop planting corn. Apparently by sheer coincidence, Sunfrost is now trying to develop an export market for ful, a Middle Eastern broad bean that looks like a giant pea that can be used as a snack, or in soups and casseroles. Sunfrost is making them available year-round, not just in the winter, but, so far, apparently just on the domestic market (microwave directions are in Hebrew only).

Still another Israeli introduction is low-calorie vegetarian meals from Tiv Tirat Tsvi, the kibbutz better known for smoked meats. Although the basic ingredient is soy, often used as a meat substitute by others, the kibbutz uses soy chunks rather than ground soy in order to give a more authentic, chewy mouthfeel. Spices and sauces are used for flavor, and the line includes Bourgignon stew, spinach and lentil casserole, Chinese sweet-and-sour and Indian curry. Some shipments have already been made to Britain and Belgium, and there has been interest in France, Germany, Ireland and Denmark.

But would you believe coated baby corn cobs? They're an award-winning new introduction from Kitchen Range Foods, Cambridge England, which has a line of coated frozen vegetables like mushrooms, cauliflower florets, onion rings and courgette slices for snacks or side dishes.
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Title Annotation:News from Europe
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Yesterday's followers are today's leaders in Britain's market-driven FF industry.
Next Article:Horn of plenty puts US vegetable industry on the horns of uncomfortable dilemma.

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