Billion dollar berry giant invests more millions in Portugal

In a week when Portuguese fruit and vegetables took centre stage in a trade fair in Berlin, billion-dollar berry giant Driscoll’s has announced it will be ploughing another €3 million at least into operations in Portugal. It’s a move that will see this little corner of Europe finally up there with the ‘big boys’ – proving that Portugal’s climate has so much more to offer than the traditional image of only sun and sea.

As Driscoll’s director of operations in the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco Nuno Simões explains, the climate here is “very much like that of California” and so ideal for the cultivation of red berries.

Already, Driscoll’s has invested over €17 million in the last decade in Portugal. The American-based family concern with an annual turnover of over €3 billion has around 400 hectares on-board, involving the participation of 44 producers, both in the Algarve and Alentejo.

Plans now are to extend this by another 50-60 hectares which should see Portugal’s production of blueberries doubling – thus turning the country into Europe’s largest supplier for markets here, in Africa and the Middle East.

This far Driscoll’s Portugal has managed an annual turnover of €25.5 million, supplying European markets with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and the increasingly popular blueberries.

As Nuno Simões highlighted, the company has a “very large” growth potential as red fruits – as berries are called – are in fashion and carry excellent health benefits.

“We like to say we are the healthy sweets,” he told reporters after the Fruit Logistica trade fair in Berlin that closed last week.

Driscoll’s operations are marketed under the names LusoMorango, Madre Fruta and Aromas.

In the Algarve, raspberry producer Hubel stressed another huge advantage that Portugal has over other growers. Calling it a window, Hubel’s executive director Tiago Andrade explained Portugal could produce raspberries between the months of February and May, when no other European producers had the climate to do so.

Thus Hubel’s turnover has been increasing by the year. The last ‘record’ was €11 million, twice as much as the year before.

New cash subsidies for Portugal’s small producers

Meantime, there has been more good news, this time for Portugal’s small producers. Agriculture minister Assunção Cristas has been doing the rounds, kissing farmers in her wellies while presenting new subsidies for those whose turnover is less than €10,000 – thus leaving them exempt from paying IVA.

The €600 cash subsidies are designed to compensate farmers for all the purchases they have to make that include IVA, as they are unable to claim any of the tax back.

The new ‘regime’, as it is called, needs to be requested between July and January each year, and be ‘considered’ by producers’ tax departments.

Similar regimes are reported to be in place in UK, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium and even Greece.

According to press reports, as many as 130,000 of the nation’s farmers could benefit from this new subsidy.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: HUBEL