Supermarket chain Mercadona is putting the fig back on the map

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – The fig was introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians from the Middle East. Man and the fig have been inseparable for thousands of years. In addition to consumption, it has traditionally been used as a medicine. Furthermore, the fig tree also plays a prominent role in several religions. 

Even for many animals, the fig is indispensable. The fruit supports more wildlife species than any other fruit. More than 1200 species feed on them! Birds, bats, primates… there are environmentalists who say that if the fig trees disappeared, the world would collapse. 

In fact, it is not a fruit but an inverted flower. Fig trees do not bloom like other fruit trees, but their flowers grow in a pear-shaped pod. Which then grows into what we know as a fig. 

Today the fig is especially popular for its delicious sweet taste, as an alternative to sugar. A true delicacy. Sweet in taste but also great to combine with savoury products such as raw ham or cheese. The fruit is also ‘in demand’ because of the enormous number of dishes you can make with it. Despite this, the five has been out of the picture for years. The good news is that interest is back. 

Domestic fig consumption has grown exponentially 

Over the past three years, consumption in Spain has grown exponentially. Partly thanks to the largest Spanish supermarket chain. In 2020 Mercadona decided to commit itself even harder to homegrown products. The Valencian owner and CEO of the chain, Juan Roig, filled the shelves with 850 tons of purchased figs: 30% more than the year before. All produced nationally and supplied by companies from the various autonomous regions. After large-scale purchasing and distribution in supermarkets, domestic consumption has increased exponentially over the past three years. 

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Also read: What is the origin of the name Mercadona?

The ninth producer in the world 

With an annual fig production of 25,000 tons, Spain occupies ninth place on the worldwide production list. Together with Portugal and Greece, it is the most important player in the EU. At the same time, it is still far from the production of the real big boys in this sector: Iran, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. 

A delicate product 

The success of fig cultivation is very weather dependent. For example, it does not like rain and the fruit is difficult to keep fresh for a long time. For this reason, there is a visible split in the fig sector between ‘fresh’ for domestic use and ‘dried’, for international export. Not infrequently, the fruits are then dipped in sugar syrup for a long shelf life. Also, syrup, jam, candied fruits and other delicacies are actively prepared from the fruit of the fig tree. 

High price does not deter the consumer 

It can be called remarkable that a relatively expensive product, for which you pay around  €5/kilo, is so important for the supermarket chain. It is, among other things, the delicious sweet taste and the interest of top chefs that make the fig so popular. The fig also seems to benefit from a time when consumers are purchasing more environmentally conscious and are putting sustainability first. The fact that the fig is sold out every season shows that the client is more than ever willing to dig deep into their pockets.

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