Consumer mood: asparagus in crisis

Status: 05/29/2022 06:53 a.m

From small luxuries to indispensable vegetables: This spring, asparagus does not end up on the plate as often as in previous years. Consumers are holding back and many German asparagus farmers are left with their goods.

Eckhard Kuhl is standing in front of his field in the Elbe-Elster district of Brandenburg, somewhat stunned. Green, bushy tendrils stretch out of the ground as far as the eye can see. It is unharvested asparagus that no customer has wanted to buy in the past few weeks. It has become useless and cannot be sold, a visible sign of the asparagus doldrums that are affecting many producers in Germany. “Your heart can bleed,” complains farmer Kuhl. “When you see what great asparagus is coming here, which should actually end up with the consumers and is now growing out here.”

“Everyone prefers to keep the money in their pockets now”

He only harvested three and a half tons of asparagus per hectare, it could actually be eight. Loses more than half. He has already set aside 25 of 60 hectares of his farm. This also has an impact on the workforce: Of the 100 seasonal workers he normally employs, only 60 were able to stay this year.

Farmer Kuhl often gets the explanation directly from the customers: “People are unsettled. What will happen to my apartment bills, ancillary costs, etc.? And now everyone prefers to keep the money in their pockets.” In any case, far fewer people seem to spend it on their precious vegetables that they really love.

“Several parallel crises”

A trend that industry representatives confirm. “Consumer sentiment is currently at a record low,” reports Phillip Haverkamp from the Berlin Brandenburg Trade Association. “That’s simply because we don’t just have one crisis after another, but several parallel crises.” Apparently, the long-running Corona virus and now the war in Ukraine have taken away the Germans’ desire for exclusive enjoyment.

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“I keep an eye on the prices,” confirms customer Rita Trotske. She is a regular customer in the farm shop of the asparagus farm Jakobs in Beelitz. The municipality southeast of Potsdam is one of the “asparagus Meccas” in Germany. And yet the customers here seem more reserved than before. “It’s something special, maybe at the weekends,” says Elke Pantel, explaining her shopping habits.

Price competition from abroad

Those responsible at the asparagus locations are observing this reluctance to buy with concern, because prices are coming under more pressure than before. “Asparagus is cheaper than it has been for five years,” explains asparagus farmer Jürgen Jakobs, who is also head of the Beelitz asparagus association. At the beginning of the season, the best asparagus cost EUR 16.90 per kilogram, but the price has now fallen to EUR 11.90. The cheapest goods cost 3.50 euros. “Fresh asparagus is even cheaper in the supermarket,” says Jakobs.

This is also ensured by the competition from abroad. Spain and Greece have long recognized Germany as an interesting sales market. And producers from neighboring countries such as Poland are also pushing into the market with cheap asparagus. A price war that German asparagus farmers cannot win.

Good sales in his own restaurant

A small ray of hope after all the corona-related restrictions offers some asparagus farms their own gastronomy. In Jürgen Jakobs’ own asparagus restaurant, asparagus is very popular these days. After two difficult Corona years with high losses, the restaurant is “more crowded than it has been in a long time” this year, Jakobs reported: “People have something to catch up on.”

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Maybe some of this will end up in the domestic cooking pots, he hopes. Half of this year’s asparagus season is over. Engraving will continue until June 24th.

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