Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Tomatoes: the winning strategy of the Aurora co-operative in Sicily

Written by Christiane Navas on Tuesday, April 23rd 2013 à 10:33 | Read 936 times

ITALY. Strength through union! Tomato producers in Pachino, Sicily, put this motto into practice when they launched the Aurora cooperative in the 1970s. For the last twelve years it has enabled them to penetrate export markets.

The reputation of Pachino's tomatoes has spread beyond Sicily (photo Aurora)
The reputation of Pachino's tomatoes has spread beyond Sicily (photo Aurora)
The cherry tomatoes from Pachino in Sicily are famous throughout Italy and even internationally, where they are sought after and enjoyed by connoisseurs. The perfect place to grow tomatoes, with a microclimate that makes them particularly delicious, the region of Pachino, in the province of Ragusa, has even been granted PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication), a European certification that guarantees the geographical origin of a product and specific quality criteria. The Aurora co-operative is among the approved producers.

Launched in the 1970s by fifteen independent producers, the co-operative now has 92 members. "It's the biggest co-operative in the region", says Salvatore dell'Arte, its president for the last thirteen years. "Properties in our region do not generally exceed 1.5 hectares, we have to organise ourselves and work together to protect the quality of the production, to market it efficiently, and to reduce our costs." Specializing in tomatoes for the table (four varieties), and also courgettes, melons and watermelons, the co-operative takes care of all handling, logistics and marketing operations. "For Italy, we work directly with the carriers who deliver to our clients, for the international market, clients send us their carriers" explains Salvatore dell'Arte.


Quality, traceability and export

To avoid a multiplication of intermediaries and downward pressure on prices, the co-operative signs contracts directly with the main large-scale distribution operators, such as Coop Italia. For the last ten years, Pachino's tomatoes have been conquering export markets, "by bringing small producers together, Aurora has been able to find new market opportunities. Essentially, we work with the large-scale distribution networks in Germany, the United States and Switzerland", explains the co-operative's president. A winning strategy due to the efforts made regarding traceability and quality.

This approach owes a great deal to Salvatore dell'Arte. A trained agronomist, past president of the supervisory authority for Pachino's IGP approval, he was a member of the jury in 2011 of the new 'Excellent Tomato' prize which aims to reward the best varieties obtained after rigorous selection to improve resistance and flavour.  

Today Pachino's producers are facing competition from tomatoes imported from Morocco. "In the past, Moroccan tomatoes were mostly sold in Spain and in France, but now they arriving on the Italian market. It is unfair competition given the cost of labour. Especially as the production does not carry the same health guarantees, since there is no real traceability. And, in the context of the economic crisis, our quality, in which we have invested so much, does not carry the same weight in the face of lower prices", warns Aurora's president, who is calling on Brussels to protect European production.

Special issue : The fruit and vegetable sector is ready to share resources

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