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“When Fashion started off, watermelons were destined to disappear”

JOAQUIN HIDALGO

On the brand’s 20th anniversary, Fruit Today interviewed Joaquín Hidalgo, the General Coordinator of the AGF-Fashion Watermelon Group

Time flies. Two decades have already gone by since Fashion appeared on the market. Fashion is a watermelon that has obtained the sector’s unanimous recognition for having raised the quality level of the entire category. With this product, AGF Group has reached an important milestone: “consolidating a consumer brand created by producers.” At present, there are 15 associated companies under its umbrella.

This year Fashion is celebrating two decades of life. What is your assessment of this?

Indeed, this year we are commemorating 20 years since the creation of the Fashion brand, although the project is slightly older. Over these years, the sector has changed a great deal, for the better, and Fashion is the driver behind this change. When the project started off, the watermelon crop was destined to disappear. Consumer confidence was very low and now it is one of the most important crops in Almeria in terms of surface area, volume and economic importance. The key to Fashion’s success lies in the fact that it is not just a production project, but rather a specialisation of the production. Our associates have a very important specific weight in the country’s crop, with a consistent production calendar and a continuous offer throughout the entire campaign.

In general terms, today Almeria’s watermelon production is around 40-45% of Spain’s total watermelon production and the companies from this region control a significant part of the production in other areas. There has been a great deal of specialisation. The product from Almeria and, in general, from Spain, is high-quality, even managing to encroach on the melon market share in traditionally melon-eating areas such as Castilla-La Mancha. Additionally, we have managed to position Spain as the main watermelon exporter in the world and we are in 12th or 13th position regarding world production. For all these reasons, we can say that the assessment for these 20 years is unbeatable.

How are you going to celebrate this important date?

This year’s entire advertising campaign revolves around the anniversary. We are going to have an intense promotional activity aimed at consumers. Our main aim is to thank the consumers who believed in us, and who continue to believe in us, for their loyalty.

How has the first phase of the campaign started, with imports of your watermelons from Senegal?

It is being unusual, agronomically-speaking due to the origin’s weather conditions. In Senegal the winter has been colder than normal and the qualities are not optimal. We predict that in this campaign the import volume will drop, as we are not obtaining either the volume or the continuity that we would like. However, as always, we apply a demanding filter on the product on its arrival to Spain in order to be able to market it in terms of our quality standards. On the other hand, we are experiencing a very high increase in maritime transport costs. The freights have risen almost 100% compared to the past campaign and these must be passed on to the price of the product. In the commercial aspect, with spring about to arrive, the weather conditions are good and the product is selling well.

Agricultural organisations are talking about a drop of between 20 and 40% in melon and watermelon surface area. In your case, how is the Spanish national campaign going to develop?

In this campaign, we will have the same surface area as in 2021. We made a small adjustment of around 12% with respect to 2020, because we did not think it likely for the experience of 2020 to be repeated. That year the prices were exceptionally high at source during the months of April and May, when Almeria was alone on the market and subsequently, in August there were very high prices in Castilla-La Mancha owing to the fact that there was an incredible heat wave in Europe. It seems that we were the only ones who made this adjustment in the last campaign, because there were 4,000 ha more and a very significant overproduction. Exports did not work as normal, causing a terrible imbalance between offer and demand.

How is the current situation going to affect the watermelon campaign?

We have an important problem with production costs. Many of the prices of inputs have increased by around 20-30% and what is worse is that they are not going to stop rising (diesel, transport…). We are going to see an increase in the cost of the most basic foodstuffs and logic says that this is going to favour white label brands or distribution. But it must not be forgotten that as brands we offer a guarantee of quality and flavour, food safety and confidence. We will work to transmit these values and the social commitment with the companies that work with us. Transmitting all this is important, because we must not forget that we have important threats on the horizon: third countries such as Morocco are obtaining very good results in speciality melons such as Cantaloupe and also in watermelons, in areas such as the Zagora desert, to the south of Morocco, with a production that coincides with Almeria’s production calendar. A more northerly area, close to Agadir is also being developed, extending the production calendar and coinciding with the open air cycle in Spain. Another origin with rising exports is Turkey. Meanwhile, the EU is increasing its imports and, within our borders, Italy is also increasing exports to Europe. We are not alone and we must not forget this. Quality and food safety are the only elements that can differentiate us.

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