Hans Liekens, Sekoya:

«France and Belgium remain unexplored territories for Sekoya berries»

With a selection of five blueberry varieties, the Sekoya® program now covers global cultivation in 18 countries on 10.000 hectares in zero and low cold, as well as medium and high cold environments. «We are eager to introduce a new variety in the late low temperature segment for cultivation in areas such as northern Morocco and Huelva for this time of year. This will ensure that we have consistent quality Sekoya berries available 52 weeks a year. Next week, we will review the selections and the latest news will not be left behind,” says Hans Liekens, director of value chain and distribution.

The requirement for consistent quality is important, according to the Belgian, who previously worked for Hessing and Chiquita. «Last week I bought a package of Spanish blueberries at the supermarket. They cost a lot of money, but I had to throw away half of it. In my opinion, this is unacceptable in 2024. There is plenty of quality fruit available to meet consumer demand. "The market could grow much faster if we all supplied high-quality fruit consistently."

Supermarkets are increasingly recognizing this, according to the retail and value chain director. «Following the example of the United Kingdom, more and more European supermarkets are working with positive and negative lists of varieties they want to sell or avoid. “This will have a significant impact on the market.”

According to Hans, the Spanish and Moroccan seasons have gone well. «In Spain, in addition to the cultivation in Huelva, we are seeing that more and more Sekoya berries are planted in other regions such as Valencia and La Mancha. The cooler nights there are ideal for blueberries, as they change the harvest period so the seasons align more closely. «Before we had more supply peaks and a calmer period after the Spanish season, but now we can move on to Serbian berries without problems. In Morocco we also saw many satisfied faces and the producers had excellent quality fruit this season."


With varieties like Sekoya Crunch, Grande and Fiesta, Sekoya is preparing for the peak cold season, which runs from roughly early July through September. “This includes essentially all berries north of Paris, from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Romania, and even these high-cold varieties are grown in Chile. Especially for cultivation in France and its home country of Belgium, Sekoya is still looking for growers to join the variety program “I was almost tempted to start growing them myself, but it seems like an untapped opportunity to grow high-quality blueberries. Our varieties were developed in Oregon, where the climate is similar to that of France and Belgium. You don't even need to try the varieties. All this is obvious. The consumers are there, now we only need the producers,” explains Hans.

Robust varieties

“In addition to the benefits of firmness, large size, flavor, appearance and shelf life of Sekoya berries, they also prove to be more robust against extreme weather conditions, whether drought or rain. Our Peruvian producers reported that despite the challenges with El Niño they suffered around 30% damage, while damage to older varieties exceeded 50%. Furthermore, in the Cape region of South Africa, the Sekoya Pop variety withstood the heavy rains of last season much better,” shares Hans. 'This highlights the urgent need to introduce new varieties. As for growing areas with high temperatures, the need to replace varieties is even more pressing. “More and more supermarkets are putting old varieties on their negative list for being too soft and prone to rotting or molding and are therefore no longer welcome in supermarkets.”

«We are working intensively on category management to further categorize blueberry applications. Let's think about separate categories for breakfast, snack and organic assortment. They have achieved much better with products such as tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. "We have a lot of work to do to help consumers choose the right berry for the right time to eat!"

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