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European market analysis: frozen strawberries amidst Egypt’s market expansion

Currently, the European market for frozen strawberries is predominantly influenced by Egyptian suppliers. Despite this, the cultivation and freezing of these berries within Europe persist. The team at EastFruit has conducted an analysis of the most recent market trends to ascertain whether Egypt’s dominance will compel European producers to abandon their strawberry cultivation, or if, on the contrary, European growers might witness a resurgence.

Historical context of the frozen strawberry market

Merely five years ago, European cultivators extensively produced the Zenga Zengana strawberry variety to meet local freezing demands. Poland emerged as a market frontrunner, benefiting from cost-effective labor and expansive, high-quality production. The Zenga Zengana variety enjoyed widespread popularity across the food industry and within the HoReCa sector.

Other varieties, such as Honey and Marmelade, were also cultivated for freezing, albeit on a smaller scale. At that time, the price for premium strawberries remained consistently between 1.0-1.2 EUR/kg.

Concurrently, Egyptian suppliers of frozen strawberries were exerting pressure on the market by offering other varieties at significantly lower prices in European ports, ranging from 0.60 EUR/kg to 1.00 EUR/kg.

However, not all chose to engage with the Egyptian berries, despite the potential for substantial raw material cost savings. The inconsistent quality of Egypt’s frozen strawberries was a significant concern.

Poland was instrumental in enhancing the accessibility of Egyptian strawberries within the EU market. Polish traders in fruit and vegetable freezing established partnerships in Egypt or set up subsidiaries, subsequently introducing the Egyptian product with assured quality to the EU market at highly competitive prices, thus creating competition for Polish farmers.

For customers, the option to purchase mixed frozen fruit batches from Polish traders, including Egyptian strawberries, was particularly appealing. This approach markedly decreased buyer expenses and substantially mitigated the risk of acquiring inferior quality products, unlike direct dealings with Egypt. Moreover, the availability of these mixed batches granted access to Egyptian frozen strawberries for smaller buyers who were unable to import large container loads.

Current state of the EU frozen strawberry market

As Egypt experienced a series of drastic devaluations of its currency, making its products even more affordable, the cost of cultivating strawberries within the EU has been on an upward trajectory.

Furthermore, EU farmers are increasingly shifting their focus towards cultivating strawberries for the fresh produce market, which offers the potential for higher returns. This shift is crucial, given the rising costs of harvesting and the growing scarcity of labor. During this period, the market has introduced numerous new strawberry varieties, distinguished by their superior taste, appearance, and enhanced transportability.

In the past, Egypt frequently marketed berries similar to those depicted in the photo below as first-class. However, even then, Egypt had higher quality offerings.

Presently, numerous European importers specializing in fruit and vegetable freezing have established direct, trustworthy connections with Egyptian suppliers, ensuring a consistent quality of frozen Egyptian berries. Egyptian freezing facilities utilize cutting-edge tunnel or static freezing techniques, with manual or automated stem removal processes. They produce not only whole berries but also slices and cubes.

It is noteworthy that Egypt has substantially improved the quality of its produce in recent times. Below is a typical representation of first-class frozen Egyptian strawberries as they appear currently:

It’s important to recognize that the likelihood of receiving foreign objects or subpar quality products from Egypt has significantly diminished over the years. Egypt is now capable of providing a dependable and stable quality. Nonetheless, it remains imperative to cultivate relationships with companies, conduct site visits, and optimize all processes for systematic collaboration with these suppliers.

While the possibility of encountering an Egyptian supplier with inconsistent quality persists, this risk is inherent in the importation of fruit and vegetable freezing products from any country.

Prices for frozen strawberries

In 2023, the market witnessed a notable increase in the price of European-produced frozen strawberries, reaching 1.50-1.60 EUR/kg. Industry experts suggest that for the cultivation and processing of strawberries within EU nations to remain viable, current prices should not fall below 1.80-2.00 EUR/kg.

Concurrently, Egypt has been competitive, offering premium-grade strawberries delivered to European warehouses at an economical rate of 1.00 EUR/kg until April 2024. However, May 2024 brought about speculation of an early conclusion to Egypt’s strawberry season, with reports indicating a downturn in production volumes.

The market dynamics were further influenced by increased shipments of Egyptian strawberries to South and North American destinations. Notably, Brazilian and American companies have ramped up their imports, leading to a price adjustment due to reduced availability for the EU market.

Despite logistical challenges posed by the Red Sea crisis, which impeded Egypt’s access to crucial Asian markets, the cost of Egyptian strawberries surged by 20-30%.

Currently, first-class Egyptian strawberries are available in the EU for 1.20-1.30 EUR/kg. While more favorable rates exist under direct supply agreements and long-term contracts, the spot price hovers around this range.

Opportunities for European producers?

The price uptick for Egyptian strawberries in May 2024 remains substantially below the production costs in the EU. Should this upward pricing trend persist, it may present an opportunity for European producers to reclaim market share for their indigenous products.

It’s important to recognize the market’s dual trajectory: global demand for Egyptian strawberries is on the rise, driving up prices. Simultaneously, EU farmers, particularly in Poland, are phasing out the Zenga Zengana variety in favor of fresh-market cultivars. This shift is positively impacting the market value of the Zenga Zengana strawberries, as several food industry firms are committed to its continued use.

As the price gap between Egyptian and European strawberries narrows, we may witness a customer migration that could bolster the economics of strawberry cultivation within the EU.

Notably, Egyptian strawberries have gained traction in the sublimation process, where flavor is paramount. Processors report that the end product derived from Egyptian strawberries is exceptionally fragrant and palatable.

Conclusions

European frozen strawberry producers are strategically reducing output, aligning production with specific contractual obligations. The trend towards not stockpiling inventory is prevalent, given the ambiguous future of higher-priced European strawberries in the marketplace.

A discernible shortage of EU-produced frozen strawberries is emerging, a trend that is likely to intensify based on current market movements.

In light of these developments, the price disparity between Egyptian and EU-produced strawberries is anticipated to diminish throughout the 2024 season.

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