The first years after the Russian boycott started were difficult for pear grower Mario Vanhellemont and his colleagues. The boycott affecting farm produce from the EU came in response to EU sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Russia was the largest market for Belgian hard fruit growers with 150,000 tons or 44% of Belgian produce heading to Russia. The boycott led to a collapse in prices.
The search for new markets was a difficult one. Markets outside the EU often threw up protective barriers. Abroad many people are not familiar with Belgian varieties. In China people always peel hard fruit to avoid pesticides. A TV ad was successful in convincing the Chinese this wasn’t necessary when it comes to delicious Belgian conference pears.
Belgian producers had to sell pears and apples under the production price for several years after the start of the boycott, while new markets were sought. The EU remains the easiest market to tackle. Outside Europe Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and China were all targeted. Special promotion films were developed to praise Belgian produce in these markets, while new varieties with different tastes and colours had to be grown.