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Value Added, IPM Labeled Produce

        A few months ago I posted a short note on SANET on a March 10th
story in "The Packer" announcing the formation of a new Dutch Cooperative,
Delft Growers, and their intention to ship vine-ripe green-house tomatoes
and peppers to the U.S. 

        Each piece of fruit will have on it a "Pesticide free" sticker, and
point of purchase information will describe the ecologically friendly IPM
systems used to grow the fruit (for a copy, call 212-265-6406 and ask for a
copy of "Facts and Figures on Tomatoes and Peppers.").  

        In my earlier SANET note, and a speech 2/28/97 given at USDA, I
predicted that such labeled fruit would be in U.S. supermarkets by the fall.
I was wrong; they are here now (see May 12th "The Packer", section C, page 9).

        Many people question whether U.S. consumers care enough about
produce quality to pay a premium for fresher, tastier, less
pesticide-contaminated produce.  A few facts from the May 10th Packer
suggest that at least some consumers do care --

* Vine-ripe tomato imports into the U.S. rose 87% from 1995 to 1996 (based
on first eight months of 1996 comparison); imports from The Netherlands, up
37% to just under 100 million pounds.

* Pepper % increases comparable, about half the volume

* Price of Dutch vine-ripe tomatoes are $2.00 to $3.00 per pound, more than
TWICE price of US grown, yet demand is still exploding.

* Most Dutch and Israeli vine-ripe imports are accompanied by some sort of
ecologically-grown, IPM, and/or pesticide free sticker.  Virtually ALL Dutch
exporters are using food safety and environmental benefits as a major
component of their sales/marketing pitches worldwide.  

        The Hartman Report, Phase I and II, documents clearly that about
half of the U.S. consuming public are interested in supporting more
environmentally friendly ag systems through their food purchasing decisions,
and that about 26% are ready to translate concerns into changes in buying
patterns IF they can find green-labeled foods that are of equal quality in
other dimensions and at competitive, although possibly marginally higher
prices. A recent FMI report says the same thing.  But to act on these
concerns, consumers must have reasons to believe in a green-label; many are
skeptical that a lot of "environmentally friendly" claims in the past have
been like the "No Cholesterol" claims on foods that never contained any. 

        All or most Dutch produce exports contain a box stating that the
produce was grown using "Environmentally Conscious Cultivation (ECC)."  This
box is generally accompanied by a simple but catchy butterly logo.  The text
of the box states in part:

"Meeting Consumer and Government concerns about the environment is
essential.  The goal is to have unlimited supplies of perfect,
organicaly-grown produce.  Though this is not yet commercially viable,
environmentally conscious cultivation (ECC) is already a reality in Holland..."

        Most retailers in Holland, and indeed other Eurpoean countries, have
stated policies favoring/promoting organic, but these policies and store
officials also state that the supplies of organic are not sifficient to meet
demand year-round and reliably, and hence the stores are also making ECC and
IPM grown foods available to give consumers another choice, as well as to
help farmers make the transition from pesticide-dependent systems to organic

        Perhaps coincidentally, but also perhaps because of the ability of
Dutch grower-shippers to supply high-quality fresh produce reliably, the
magnitude of change underway in the Dutch produce business is remarkable.
Millions of dollars are being invested in new green-houses, shipping
networks, and advanced genetics and IPM systems.  Dutch firms, alone and in
partnerships are building new, huge, high-tech greenhouse facilities in
Mexico and other countries, with the goal of assuring year-round supplies
from a network of growing locations, each covering maybe 2-4 months of the

        The Dutch are switching from low-return per unit, high volume items
to high return, lower-volume but value-added "top end" items, all shipped by
jet across the Atlantic.  Prospects for rapid growth in the U.S. market is a
major driver for this change.  Um, wonder what they know that seems to be
escaping most of the U.S. produce business?  There is not a single U.S.
grower-shipper among the 50 plus advertisers in each recent issue of "The
Packer" that says anything in its advertising copy about the environment or
IPM, except organic growers/shippers.  




Charles Benbrook                         202-546-5089 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services             202-546-5028  (fax)
409 First Street S.E.                    benbrook@hillnet.com   [e-mail]
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