High temperatures, high production and labor costs, and volatile prices are key features of the current global tomato market. In the Netherlands, tomato prices have soared as growers return to production with filler lights after a year of energy depletion, while tomato brown wrinkle fruit virus and rising labor costs are also a concern. Meanwhile, in Germany, sales were smooth while prices fluctuated due to the dominance of Belgian beef tomato supplies and Turkish-Spanish cherry tomato origins. France experienced a one-week transition period of low volumes and firm prices, exacerbated by shortages of Belgian and Dutch products. Italy struggled to stabilize prices for Sicilian fresh tomatoes and focused on opportunities for organic produce, while Spain faced a delayed start to the tomato season and price volatility. In South Africa, extreme temperatures impacted tomato prices, which reached their highest point since the fourth quarter, while North America faced strong tomato demand and tight supply.
The Netherlands: Growers are Using Supplemental Lighting Again
Growing crops with catchlights is in full swing, with the first traditional crops being re-colonized again and due to go into production next spring. The area planted with crops grown with catchlights is much larger than last winter. About half of the area covered by supplemental lighting before the energy crisis hit is back after a year of sporadic use, bringing light coverage to about 400 acres. There were also growers planting autumn crops that were in production until early January.
Prices for both single-fruit harvest tomatoes and bunch-harvest tomatoes were above average for the year. In both cases, Belgian Clock prices, which are the primary price reference, have been rising since early October. In recent weeks, average prices have changed little and are well above the average of the last two years.
Tomato brown crinkle fruit virus continues to be a major concern for the growing industry. According to official statistics, there are currently 57 infected sites in the Netherlands. Another concern remains labor. As of 1 January, the minimum wage in the Netherlands will be raised again. Growers will have to pass on these rising costs.
Germany: Smooth Sales, but Higher Prices
The beef tomato market is supplied mainly by Belgium, followed by Spanish and Turkish origins. Cherry tomatoes are mainly from Italy and the Netherlands, followed by Spanish supplies.
In particular, the volume of bunch harvest tomatoes from Turkey and the Netherlands has decreased, while Belgian and Spanish supplies have become more important. Round tomatoes come mainly from Turkey and Morocco.
Their prices are also cheaper than the Dutch and Spanish varieties. In general, marketing went well and quality was fair. However, price developments were very different, with some prices rising and others falling. In the case of Spanish tomatoes, for example, wholesale prices are already above average, and further price increases cannot be ruled out given the recent increase in tolls.
The domestic tomato growing season ended mainly 2-3 weeks ago, with good results in greenhouses in Germany and Austria, although the season started a few weeks later than in recent years. Demand was still favorable at the end of the season, “emphasized an Austrian grower. We had no leftovers anywhere and were able to sell our produce without any problems.”
France: Low Trading Volumes
Overall, it was a fairly quiet week for trading in the French market with very low volumes. Spanish production was quite low and prices were quite high at €2 to €2.15 per plant (TOV). As for French production, one operator said, “The previous harvest season is over and the new one is just starting, with very small production, hence the current high prices of up to €2.50 per bunch.” This week is therefore a week of scarce supply as a transition week.” Some operators have stopped production, others have not yet resumed production. Belgian and Dutch production is also in short supply, with prices firming at €2.40.
ITALY: Difficult Market for Fresh Tomatoes in Sicily
“The market for Sicilian table tomatoes is a little difficult at the moment, and although prices are falling, they are not above the warning line,” said one experienced grower. The days of selling products below cost seem to be over. The last time we sold at €0.50 was this time last year when the weather conditions were exceptional. Profits are very low now, but at least we can cover our production costs. The price of cherry tomatoes is 1.20-1.30 euros per kilo and 1.50 euros per kilo for plum and medium plum tomatoes. At the moment, we are not affected by competition from Spain and Morocco. The production situation is favorable and the pressure caused by the tomato brown wrinkle fruit virus is getting less and less.
According to GfK Consumer Panel Services, nearly 90 percent of Italian households buy tomatoes at least once a year. More than 17 purchases are made each year, about every three weeks, with an average weight of about 0.8kg per purchase. Organic production could be an opportunity in this category.
Spain: Delayed Start of the Season and Price Increases
Tomato production in Almeria has replaced other horticultural production in Europe that has ended and prices are rising. An operator in Almeria confirms, “The 2023/24 tomato season has been delayed compared to other years. Either because of the hot weather, planting has been delayed to avoid the same problems as last year, or because the seedbeds have been delayed by a few days, so this season is about 15-20 days late compared to last year. So far, prices have generally been more favorable due to lower production. However, as production has increased, prices have fallen; cucumber prices have been in a ‘free fall’, with prices dropping by up to €1 per kilo. However, we hope that this year’s prices won’t be too bad, as costs aren’t going down.”
Currently, in the week of mid-November, tomato prices are higher than the average of the previous three months. As noted by the Observatory of Prices and Markets of the Province of Andalucía, “the limited supply in Andalucía during this period, combined with the end of production activities in Central Europe and the problems of reduced tomato production in Morocco due to weather conditions and the tomato brown wrinkled fruit virus, are favoring the termination of the prices registered in Andalucía yet.”
North America: Tight Tomato Supplies
Following last week’s market weakness, the tomato market has had another interesting period. Despite the current shortage of tomato supplies, the situation has improved this week. In Florida, growing conditions such as cool weather, up and down cycling temperatures, and shorter days over the past week or two have all contributed to a reduction in supply, with small quantities of large-sized tomatoes. Romaine, round, and grape tomatoes are in especially short supply and prices are firm.
Meanwhile, supplies are also tight in Mexico due to the weather, and recently the lack of sunshine has also affected greenhouse-grown tomatoes in that country.
As for greenhouse production in Canada, it is also winding down due to cooler temperatures and lack of sunlight. However, demand for tomatoes is strong due to tight supply. Pricing for grape tomatoes has been particularly strong above $50/below $60.