On Wednesday, 31 March, Coöperatie Hoogstraten officially opened the Belgian strawberry season. That was from their new office building. Via a live stream, Wim Peeters of wholesaler Delidis bought the first of these soft fruits. The cooperative doubled the amount he paid to €8,000. They will donate that money to Het GielsBos. This is a home for people with mental disabilities in Belgium.
“We officially started with strawberries about ten days later this year. That was because of the several dark February days. But, the past few days’ nice weather means we can make up for that,” says Luc Bruneel. “The sunny weather stimulates strawberry demand. So, we’re having a top week. There’s high demand, and supply is still limited. Prices are, therefore, good at around €8/kg. That’s a nice price for the grower and it allows for sales.”
How the season will progress is still anyone’s guess. “It largely depends on the weather, both for cultivation and consumption. “But strawberries are a treat. We experienced that in the past corona year. People see strawberries as a healthy but also a fun, tasty product. They look forward to it in spring.”
“However, there’s also increased demand for Hoogstraten strawberries during the winter. All Belgian retailers continued to sell our product this winter. That shows that consumers consciously choose good quality strawberries. And that the Hoogstraten brand has become a true, permanent fixture on store shelves,” Luc explains.
Luc Bruneel in front of the new offices.
Flavor tomatoes segment grows
In 2020, there were 223 farmers affiliated with Coöperatie Hoogstraten. “Most cultivate strawberries, but our range includes other products too. These are tomatoes, bell peppers, and other greenhouse vegetables and soft fruit. In 2020’s supply top 3, tomatoes were at number 1. Strawberries and bell peppers followed. Last year, there was significant growth in special tomatoes’ supply.”
“That segment continues to grow. One of our largest growers has another nice expansion planned for this year. That will increase the supply of flavor tomatoes by 15%.” The cooperative also considers lit tomato cultivation a success. “We have customers who no longer switch to Spanish or North African tomatoes. They deliberately opt for Belgian tomatoes,” adds Luc.
Hoogstraten’s strawberry ambassadors, known as ‘Ghesellen’.
Investing in new varieties
“Lit strawberry cultivation acreage, too, has grown from five to eight hectares this year. That shows that the demand for these strawberries is on the rise.” The cooperative doesn’t only invest in this type of strawberry cultivation. It also invests in new strawberry varieties. “Years ago, Elsanta was one of the most sought-after varieties.”
“But in recent years, there’s been a lot of development in Sonsation. This variety lets us offer beautiful, tasty strawberries early in the season. The newcomer Limalexia is also doing well. The development of new strawberry varieties has gained momentum lately. There are still nice developments in the pipeline, too,” continues Bruneel.
A Coöperatie Hoogstraten/Danone collaboration.
Coöperatie Hoogstraten introduced its cardboard punnetts two years ago. This container has since become well-established. “These punnets are folded by machine and placed in cardboard boxes. We have special boxes and punnets for our Gold Strawberries. And we have packaging specifically for the open field strawberries. These boxes go directly to growers who only have to fill the punnets. This saves a lot of work. The punnets have codes that shoppers can scan. They show who cultivated the strawberries within. This is a great local and short-chain story example,” concludes Luc.