There is no room for ‘small producers’

At the same time as small producers and operators of limited volumes are disappearing, the producers who are best placed and can serve all year long are growing. And in many cases, they do so accompanied by investment funds.

In 1993 there were 773 citrus fruit exporters in Spain (642 private businesses and 131 cooperatives) and, between them all, they handled a production of 5 million tonnes. At present, there are 250 private businesses and around 50 cooperatives active, which manage approximately 7 million tonnes.

Previous data conclude that almost 500 private companies and cooperatives have disappeared, in spite of citrus fruit production having increased by 40%. The common denominator of this situation lies in the fact that the companies that disappeared were small: they processed less than 5,000 tonnes per year. Today, active marketing structures work with between 50,000 and 100,000 tonnes per year.

Regarding production, the evolution has also seen similar characteristics. Between 1999 and 2020, around 71,600 farms of less than 20 ha disappeared; most of which were in the Valencian Community.

This region has gone from concentrating 80% of Spanish citrus fruit in 1980 to representing 50% of the current production.

Almost 34,000 ha have been lost, a figure that is very similar to the increase recorded in Andalusia: 31,000 ha. The Region of Murcia is also increasing its surface area of citrus fruit by 1,500 ha. However, this situation does not imply a drop in Spanish production, which has grown by 15% thanks to the improvement in yield per hectare.

The production leap outside Europe

Furthermore, the companies that have survived, in addition to extending their capacity, are increasing their investment operations in the southern hemisphere to complete the production calendars and supply the supermarket shelves all year long. These operations are very similar to those that have been carried out by companies growing melons, watermelons or avocados for many years.

Today, the first 100 operators, 80 private businesses and 20 cooperatives, concentrate 75% of the total volume marketed of citrus fruits, some of them exceeding 100 million euros in invoicing. Likewise, since 2016, five investment funds have taken control over 13 of the leading private companies, with their invoicing reaching around 1,000 million euros.

A historical review of the concentration in giants

Back in the summer of 2016, the first great movement in the sector was made public: the company Martinavarro became part of the Miura Private Equity fund, which was used as a vehicle to create Citri&Co, which subsequently incorporated Río Tinto, Perales y and another two operators that had nothing to do with the citrus fruit world: Frutas Esther and the Brazilian company Famosa, specialising in melons. Regarding the citrus fruit companies that make up Citri&co, their volume makes up a total of 350,000 tonnes in citrus fruits.

Since then, the sector has undergone an important reorganisation. In 2019, a new fund, Atitlan, managed by Juan Roig’s son-in-law, who already had experience in the world of olives, bought Frutas Romu and, a year later, Frutas Guillem-Export. The forecast for the commercial volume was around 100,000 tonnes per year. MCH, on the other hand, came to an agreement with SanLucar Fruit regarding the purchase of the company from the Castellon Antonio Llusar, a company which, furthermore, for many years had already had very solid agreements with SanLucar.

Another of the movements in the sector was led by GPF along with Label Investment, by Alexandre Pierron-Darbonne, formerly from Planasa, who purchased a company located in Murcia, Frugarva, one of the main Spanish lemon producers and a supplier of Mercadona. The company was merged into The Natural Fruit Company, a platform set up almost 2 years ago, when the fund purchased the Valencian company Fruxeresa and Frutas Naturales from Murcia.

In October, 2021 Antonio Llusar and Naranjas Torres announced the establishment of a new group, specialising in premium produce, with over 100,000 tonnes per year, with some invoicing forecasts of around 130,000 million euros.

The cooperative world also had picked up the same gauntlet four years prior to this with the creation of Green Fruits, a second degree cooperative that sheltered smaller cooperatives such as Coopcisa, Coopego and Novacitrus, all of them in the Valencian Community and belonging to Anecoop. Recently, the cooperative from La Ribera, Copal has joined the group.

The latest business movement we have seen has been the joining of Bollo Internacional Fruits and The Natural Fruit Company, a company partly owned by the Fremman fund and GPF Capital, which will process 480,000 tonnes.

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