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Portugal’s processors in the organic sector

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The organic processors in the west of the Iberian Peninsular operate with a number of different strategies. Some concentrate on importing raw materials, while the aim of others is to process as much domestically produced material as possible in order to supply the local market. The more demand there is from processors the more incentive conventional farmers have to convert their production to organic. Organic-Market.Info visited four companies in the Lisbon region. What they all have in common is their total commitment to organic. (Picture: Tiago Sousa from Próvida)

Bio-Frade is the name of the company owned by Henrique Oliveira Gomes and his brother Vitor. In 1991, they began to convert their parents’ farm in Lourinha, 100 km to the north of Lisbon. They soon realized that they could only create value through processing. First, they began to diversify cultivation on their 34 hectares, in order to make available as many products as possible “We were the first to produce organic jam, but eventually this production proved not to be profitable,” says managing director Henrique. Today they produce tomatoes, melons, squashes, cabbage, lettuce and parsnips in the open and cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs, beetroot and other vegetables in a greenhouse measuring approximately 10,000 m² (picture). Their own wide range of produce is supplemented with a selection of vegetables bought in from over 100 other organic farmers in Portugal and from firms abroad such as Eosta. The brand-new refrigeration plant (800 m²) stores enough goods for orders, most of which come mainly from the conventional retail trade. “Every day, we pack around ten pallets for various supermarket chains like El Corte Ingles, Continent or Auchan,” Henrique Gomes explains. 

Sales to the conventional retail trade account for 70 % of turnover, wholefood stores for 20 % and two weekly markets for 10 %. While growing and trading fruit and vegetables are their main line of business, 30 sheep and a pig are kept for their own consumption and to supplement the other products they sell, plus the fact they are suppliers of useful compost. The 30,000 big squashes and 70 t of garlic they supply every year to the chains and shops give an idea of their volume of production. The brothers employ 20 people at Bio-Frade (picture on right). Frade is the name of the town and also means brothers (fratres).
Henrique (32) and Vitor (40) are engaged in extremely important public relations work: 50 to 60 school classes plus approximately 3,000 other visitors – students, farmers, representatives of organizations and consumers – come to the farm every year to see how organic farming functions and to learn from the experiences of the brothers. “We think it’s important to demonstrate to children, young people and of course adults the differences between organic and conventional production. Either groups come on visits arranged in advance or they attend the open days that are held three times a year.”

The brand label of Quinta do Arneiro is a heart plus “with love”. Luisa Almeida (picture on left) took over her family farm five years ago. “Earlier in life,” explains the 51-year-old, who used to work as a bookseller, “the last thing I wanted to do was work in agriculture.” Now she grows organic vegetables on her 5.5 hectares, on which several greenhouses stand (picture). Her plan is to gradually clear another 22 ha of conventional pear plantations that she owns in order to convert the land to organic production. She markets her produce via the health food chain Celeiro, three conventional food stores in the locality and a school kitchen.

Immediately next to the farm is the packing facility for her home-delivery service, from where every week she supplies 120 families with boxes of vegetables costing 20, 25 or 30 euros. The boxes don’t just contain fruit and vegetables but also basics like bread, eggs, rice, olive oil, flour and wine. If that is not enough, customers can supplement the standard boxes with items of their choice, or they can order a box of products specified entirely by themselves. While two employees are packing the produce every day, some direct marketing customers take advantage of the opportunity to come and buy produce.

Processing her own fruit and vegetables to increase the variety of products, even when in some cases small quantities mean this may be uneconomic, is an important issue for Ms Almeida: she produces dried apple rings, fruit and vegetable jams (for example, from tomatoes) and bottled vegetables like beetroot. Today, Quinta do Arneiro in Mafra offers two farm visits a year, but in the future Luisa Almeida thinks she may well get involved in events, gastronomy and eco-tourism, which could well be an interesting prospect given the lovely location of the quinta (mansion) (picture). She would, however, need to have partners to invest in renovating some other building and in marketing.

Around 300 wholefood shops, health food stores and other retailers all over Portugal are supplied by the company Carvalhoso (Herdade de Carvalhoso) in the southern region of Alentejo. The mill produces flour from various sorts of cereals, organic baking mixes for bakers and end consumers and bakery ingredients. Rice and the various pulses are bought in big unit sizes, cleaned, polished if required and packaged in different pack sizes for sale. The customer base consists of wholefood retailers, wholesalers and processors. Various items like malt coffee made from roasted barley are produced on the spot in a big warehouse equipped with a range of machines. Another important line is animal feed for organic farmers in Portugal. However, big problems were caused by an exemption issued by the government permitting the use of conventional fodder, because it led to a fall in sales last year. (Picture: Managing director Gabriela Graca, left, with the owner)

The product range is completed by attractive mixtures of rice with dried vegetables, fragrant rice with flowers or dried fruit (pineapple, strawberries, etc) (picture on left). Rice is also offered with herbs like rosemary, coriander, mint, parsley or oregano. They use strawberries, vanilla, aniseed and rose blossom to naturally flavour sugar (consumer packs). Their wide product range also includes organic flowers that can be used for desserts and for decorating dishes. “The company was founded in1972 and employs a dozen people,” says managing director Gabriela Graca. While the Gouchi brand stands for the higher value category, a lower priced range is offered under the Herdade de Carvalhoso brand.

Próvida is the name of a firm founded in 1984 that has specialized as a processor and importer of vegetarian foods. The product range comprises 1,200 articles, a quarter of which carry the Próvida label: fresh bread and bakery goods from the company’s own bakery (picture on right), mueslis, juices, biscuits, herb tea and soya products, to name only the most important product groups produced by the company itself. Their products are supplemented with important ranges from Allos, Emile Noel, Ricedream, Oatly, Lima, Isola Bio, Mitoku, Bio Idea, Primeal, Cereco, Biosoy, Miridian and Agrano. “In 2012 we registered a rise in turnover of 4.5 %,” says managing director Sousa, pleased to report an increase despite the continuing economic crisis. The company site, with offices, refrigeration facilities and a warehouse with four-storey stacking, covers an area of 3,000 m². The company has a workforce of 60.

The company is known in the specialist trade under the name Próvida and has a logo with a five-point star. The conventional retail trade is served by the Seara brand. The biggest customer in terms of the number of products is the retailer LEH Continent. In some of its stores you find up to 110 Próvida lines, says the managing director Tiago Sousa (picture), whose parents built up the firm. Goods for the health food chain Celeiro are packaged under a private label. The specialist trade and retail shops with 600 outlets account for 75 % of Próvida’s turnover and are, therefore, its major customers. The other 25 % is accounted for by the conventional trade with 250 supermarkets.

Tiago Sousa regrets not being able to get more farmers in Portugal to supply him. Despite having been in business for almost 30 years, he has only got a dozen organic farmers and beekeepers who supply him with cereals, pulses, vegetables, olive oil, salt and honey. Twelve years ago, Próvida set up a model farm in the vicinity of Portugal’s highest mountain, Serra da Estrela (250 km north-east of Lisbon). Here they grow 15 ha of cereals and 5 ha of soya beans. 20 ha is woodland. Especially clean groundwater is used in the manufacture of tofu. However, most of the soya beans for processing continue to come from China and Brazil.

The proportion of organics in the product range has been increased over time to 90 %. “I’m not inclined to do what some buyers in the conventional trade are urging me to do, namely to list more conventional articles,” says Tiago Sousa. Depending on the destination, five company-owned lorries deliver goods one to three times a week (to Porto, for example). For more distant destinations, a transport firm is used.




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