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Spanish Orange Producers Aim to Build on Positive Reputation

March 06, 2017

From left to right: Fermin Sanchez, Alice Lee, Markus Liljergren

Although Spanish exports of oranges have been open for many years now, exports really started picking up in the last 2 or 3 years, and have already gained a reputation in China for their high quality, sweetness and taste. It’s no surprise then that Spanish producers have high hopes for the market.

“This year we exported less of our Oh-La Brand oranges than we had expected, this was due to the unfortunate bad weather and the impact of the harbour strike,” said Fermin Sanchez, General Manager of Gruventa, exclusive partner with AEC Inter, whose consignments of the fruit received an enthusiastic reception in Shanghai last year.

Despite lower than expected figures this year, Gruventa has plans for a long-term expansion. “China is a boundless market, if they say they want the product, it would take 10 Spains to meet demand, but because of the quality requirements we will have to increase bit by bit.
First we need to certify more farms, because of the difficulty of the protocol every orchard has to be considered separately. Selecting and registering the orchard before knowing the quality during the future harvest is definitely complicating things. Once this is done we hope to increase exports significantly.” said the General Manager. Next year the company plans to export an important volume to strengthen the Oh-La brand status in China, then hopes that imports will keep increasing year on year after that.

At the moment Spanish producers and exporters are lobbying the Spanish government to push for a relaxation of the regulations for export to China. Mr. Sanchez still has his sights set on China precisely because of the seemingly endless capacity of the market, but others question whether it is worth the investment in view of the detailed and exhaustive protocol, as Mr. Sanchez put it, “Spanish producers think: well, it takes 1 month to get a container to China and I earn about the same as if I sell in Europe. What’s more, Europe doesn’t request as high a quality…if there isn’t an important justification in price and considering the need to deliver much higher quality, I’m not interested.”

“We still want to export to China as we see it as a long term investment, and every year more products are opened, but we also want the protocol requirements for exporting to China to be normal, as they are in Europe…otherwise we won’t be able to supply adequate volumes,” added Mr. Sanchez.

However, such high volumes are arduous to achieve when the selection also needs to satisfy the rigorous demands of Chinese consumers, “we adapt our offering to the tastes of Chinese customers because it’s a special market…we have to carry out a more meticulous selection than if we were exporting to Europe. Chinese customers want a sweeter fruit with a more intense flavour. What’s more they want fruit that is visually attractive, and homogeneous without marks.” said Gruventa’s general manager.

Finally, the flavour of the oranges is not the only aspect that needs to appeal to local tastes, and Gruventa and AEC Inter are working on a branding strategy that will exploit the positive reputation Spanish oranges already enjoy on the market, while creating connections with local culture, “We want the product to be strongly associated with Spain, but we also want to bond our brand with Chinese characteristics that are easy for Chinese customers to identify with,” said Sanchez.

The exports later this season of Navel Powell and Summer oranges to China, will definitely help reinforce the positive opinion Chinese consumers have of Spanish oranges, explained Alice Li, Asia Pacific Managing Director and BD of AEC Inter and Gruventa, “summer oranges are in high demand in Europe and they pay very well too. So they won’t be cheap for Chinese customers, but we believe they will be satisfied with what we are offering.”

From left to right: Fermin Sanchez, Alice Lee, Markus Liljergren

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