Friday, July 15, 2022
As a Belgian retailer, Colruyt Group is fully committed to bringing more Belgian products to the shelves. The retailer group wants to play a leading role in innovative crops and actively support farmers who are taking their chance. In this context, Colruyt Group is supporting two new test projects in fruit farming. From mid-June, Belgian apricots will be available in 3 CRU experience markets. Additionally, Charentais melons will be grown on a large scale and will be sold at Colruyt Lowest Prices, Bio-Planet, Spar Colruyt Group and OKay.
A first with Belgian apricots
Colruyt Group wants to systematically increase the Belgian share in the fruit and vegetable range and is investigating innovative fruit cultivation options to accomplish this. Your average apricot will usually come from Spain or France, depending on the moment in the season. However, this summer Belgian apricots will be available for the first time in three CRU experience markets.
Fruit growers Wolfcarius in Markegem and Neven in Borgworm planted apricot trees at the request of Colruyt Group in 2018. This summer for the first time this pilot project produced a large enough harvest of some 22 tested apricot varieties. This is a first for Colruyt Group: never before have Belgian-grown apricots been sold to consumers.
The two fruit growers involved in this project have been strong Colruyt Group partners for many years and are both also involved in the Magic Star apple crop. The varieties are selected together with hybridisers, who select plants with the best hereditary characteristics and create new varieties from them. Together with these experts, Colruyt Group selected varieties and adapted their rootstocks to the Belgian climate, which increasingly tends towards a Mediterranean Sea climate.
Scaling up the Belgian cultivation of popular Charentais melon
Also new on the shelves of Colruyt Group stores this summer: Belgian Charentais melons. A variety that normally comes from France during the season, but thanks to extensive tests in cooperation with BelOrta and EcoDal, now temporarily available at Colruyt Group stores.
The Belgian Charentais melons are certainly not inferior to their southern cousins. The versatile melons are sweet, juicy and can be served at any time of the day. Customers can find the melons in a few dozen Colruyt Lowest Prices branches and a selection of Spar Colruyt Group stores. At OKay the Belgian Charentais is temporarily replacing the French melons in 14 stores in West-Flanders. At Bio-Planet 100% of the volume of organic Charentais melons will be Belgian starting in August.
For this project, Colruyt Group also works closely together with Belgian fruit growers. More specifically by engaging in contract farming with Reweghs BV, through BelOrta, which reserves 2 to 3 hectares for melon growing, while being very enthusiastic about the promising crop.
Reweghs BV is currently the only professional grower of Charentais melons in Flanders. Melon cultivation is now possible by using tunnels with thermal and anti-condensation foils, which create a kind of microclimate. These tunnels keep the heat in and the frost out, while the melons still get enough light. Three years ago, growers Kristof and Kim took up the challenge:“We have been growing strawberries in open soil for 18 years now,” Kristof says. “We started small with our strawberries, but now we grow on 14 hectares. Three years ago we decided to start growing melons as well. In terms of infrastructure, you need pretty much the same as for strawberries; that made the switch a little easier. Colruyt Group quickly showed interest in the project, so we could start commercialising.”
Close cooperation with Belgian farmers
Due to the changing climate and an ever better access to innovative techniques, Colruyt Group has been exploring more crops that could previously not be grown in Belgium. Besides fruit cultivation, other innovative local projects are being undertaken. For instance, Colruyt Group started an organic baking wheat project with a few Belgian organic farmers. Additionally, Colruyt Group is experimenting with Belgian ginger together with REO Auction and the Provincial Test Centre for Vegetable Farming. It not only has a much smaller ecological footprint, but is also very tasty with a stronger flavour than ginger from abroad. With innovative tests such as these, Colruyt Group continues to focus on sustainable partnerships with Belgian producers.
“Cultivations such as Charentais melons and apricots are certainly not yet a matter of course, but Colruyt Group is happy to take the lead in research about these new crops," says Jan Schockaert, head of Colruyt Group's fruit purchasing department.
"We want to share thoughts with Belgian farmers about how we can tackle cultivation in Belgium in the smartest way. After all, diversification in agriculture has many advantages. In terms of income for the growers, but also to fill the gaps during the season and to make optimal use of our cultivated land. Take Reweghs BV, our partner for the Charentais melons. They mainly grow strawberries. Once that season is over, their vacant land can be used for experiments, for example, with new types of fruit cultivation. We learn a lot from each other that way. And in the end, together we can offer the customer an increasingly local and diverse range of products,” concludes Schockaert.