Spain is the world’s largest exporter of fresh strawberries
Spanish strawberries. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX.
Spain is the world’s largest exporter of fresh strawberries, annually shipping approximately 285 thousand tons of this Spanish delicacy to international destinations in Europe and beyond. Additionally, it is the second largest source of this berry in the world, thanks in no small part to the innovation and dedication of strawberry producers in Andalusia, the region that is responsible for 90% of all Spanish strawberries.
The market success of Spanish strawberries is unparalleled. Not only is Spain the second largest producer of this fruit, but it has also dominated international markets as the world’s leading strawberry exporter for more than seven years. According to data from ICEX Spain Trade and Investment, Spanish strawberry exports in 2016 represented about 5483.000 thousand Euros in sales. These figures not only account for approximately 95% of total strawberry production in Spain, but they have also been on the rise over the past five years, for an average annual increase of around 18%.
In terms of export destinations, figures show that the most significant markets by far are European, with Germany and France accounting for the lion’s share of around 107 thousand tons and 56 thousand tons, respectively. They are followed by other European destinations that include the United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. At the same time, new markets are slowly opening for Spanish strawberries in Asia, but they still represent only a very small portion of total export sales.
Around 7,000 hectares / 17,297 acres of fields in Andalusia are dedicated to strawberry production. This is particularly true in the province of Huelva, which is the source of at least 85% of all Spanish strawberries. Through a steadfast dedication to research and development, and the help of organizations like Freshuelva, the Huelva-based association that represents area strawberry producers – and hence around 95% of the industry – the large output in Huelva has been developed through the process of intense cultivation, which makes it possible for farmers to harvest several crops a year.
Though there is an early strawberry season that lasts from November to April, the bulk of Spanish strawberry production in Huelva takes place from January or February to July. Interestingly enough, though the actual production, harvesting and processing of these berries takes place in Huelva, some companies there follow innovative production techniques that begin elsewhere in Spain, in the interest of producing the absolute highest-quality fruit.
One such company is Fresón de Palos. This cooperative boasts more than 150 members, 1,100 hectares of plantations, and an annual production of around 70 thousand tons (in 2015). Put these numbers together and they equal the largest strawberry producer in the world, responsible for almost 25% of all production in Spain. According to Marketing Director Jaime Zaforas, this cooperative also stands out for its cultivation process which involves first planting the strawberries in greenhouses in Castile-León, where they enjoy lower temperatures during the hot summer months.
“Around October or November, the plants are dug up, cleaned and moved to Palos de la Frontera in Huelva, where the combination of good soil, abundant water and sun, and a mild climate provide the perfect conditions for the production of a unique strawberry”, informs Jaime Zaforas.
Other factors that insure the quality of the strawberries produced here involve a careful selection of varieties for cultivation. “Fresón de Palos has a defined varietal system that each of its members must adhere to. We collaborate with the industry’s most experienced engineers, technicians and agricultural specialists who, together with our directors, decide which varieties will work best for that season with regard to variables including precocity, productivity, disease resistance, consistency, shape, flavor, texture and market demand at every stage of the process. This year we are growing four strawberry varieties: Sabrina (40.6%), Fortuna (37.2%), Antilla (13.4%) and Candonga (8.8%).”
Spanish export dominance
In 2015, this cooperative exported around 55% of its harvest, or 38,500 tons, mainly to Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Portugal, as well as new destinations like the Czech Republic and Russia. Some 70% of the company’s total production goes to large distribution chains, while the other 30% is sold in traditional marketplaces.
Other companies, such as Cuna de Platero, export upwards of 90% of their total production. With around 17.5 hectares / 43.2 acres of cultivation area and annual production of approximately one million kilos, this company sends 80% of its strawberries primarily to France, as well as to some new clients in the Middle East and Holland. This cooperative emphasizes the important role of research and development of new strawberry varieties, greenhouse cultivation techniques, irrigation systems and pest control, as keys to its continuing success.
European dominance in terms of demand for Spanish strawberries is encouraged by the participation of Spanish strawberry companies in annual international food fairs like Fruit Logistica in Germany and Fruit Attraction in Madrid. However, these fairs also provide opportunities for opening new markets in places like Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia. One company that has been successful in this endeavor is Agromolinillo, which exports 90-95% of its total annual strawberry production of 6.5 million kilos. While most of its strawberries wind up in Europe, the company is a pioneer in exporting to Asia with around six tons of strawberries destined for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Whether in Europe or other markets, Spanish strawberry market is continuing to grow, making these sweet and juicy berries ambassadors for high-quality Spanish food products worldwide.
Adrienne Smith is a sommelier, chef and freelance writer. She has spent the last decade eating and drinking her way through Spain.