Figs usually come from Greece, lemons from Spain and watermelons from Italy, don't they? That’s right. But not just from there. Figs, lemons and watermelons are also grown in Austria – in places such as Vienna, Burgenland and Lower Austria. And they are sold by BILLA. “In addition to classic domestic products like potatoes, currants and tomatoes, we are increasingly working with farming partners to turn foods that, at first glance, are not grown in Austria into the country’s very own products,” says Marcel Haraszti, Management Board of the REWE International AG. The list of these exotic Austrian products is long and becoming longer. Just a few years ago, rice grown in the Seewinkel National Park region of eastern Austria belonged to this “new regionalism” movement. Today, BILLA also sells sweet potatoes from Styria, peanuts and garlic from the Weinviertel region of Lower Austria, goji berries from Vienna and ginger from the Seewinkel area. “We are diligently expanding this product range step by step. In the process, we are supporting local producers, investing in Austria and expanding our range of regional products for the benefit of our customers,” says Haraszti.
Figs from the Vienna district of Simmering
Which products would enhance our regional range? What would customers like? Purchasers and regional scouts from BILLA are constantly on the lookout for innovative farmers whose products would enrich the company’s assortment – people like Michael Krauliz. The architect with Greek roots turned his dream of growing figs into a reality a few years ago. But not in his home country, where the knotty, warmth-loving plants will even take root in walls. Rather, he was intent on cultivating them in a set of abandoned nursery greenhouses in the Vienna district of Simmering. Roughly 600 trees grow there now and produce 300 different types of figs from all over the world. Some of the trees are only knee-high, with trunks protruding ever so slightly from small pots. Others are already tall – with long branches and high yields. Krauliz is focusing on quality and not quantity in this work: “I am trying to bring out the essence,” he says. Fig trees produce fruit twice a year – the “blossom figs” in July and the even better “autumn figs” that begin to appear in early August. During such periods, Krauliz will pick 30 to 40 kilogrammes of figs every day – all by himself. “The key is to pick the fruit when it is ripe, because this is when it is sweet and juicy,” he says. However, this also makes long-distance transport virtually impossible. Fortunately, the customers of several selected BILLA stores in Vienna have the opportunity to buy the high-quality fruit produced by the “fig whisperer,” which is the nickname the farmer has given himself.
If a product complements the product range and offers the right quality, BILLA will also give small suppliers and manufacturers the opportunity to sell their products with limited quantities in its stores, even if it is just a handful of them. “When things are going well, we will actively support our local pioneers and work together with them to produce even higher yields that we can sell in future,” says Haraszti. Lemons cultivated in Lower Austria are an example of this. Last November, a time when demand for immune-strengthening products containing high levels of vitamin C was particularly strong as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, BILLA had only a limited amount of the fruit on sale in a few stores, amounting to a sampling, nothing more. Before customers knew it, the chance was gone: “Sold out.” This served as a signal for BILLA and its suppliers to invest and offer more fruit in future.
This is where
they come from
A wide range of exotic products from Austrian cultivation areas
from Lower Austria
from the Seewinkel region
from Lower Austria
More than 9,000 specialities from the region
More Austria on the shelves – it is a goal that BILLA constantly strives to achieve. Each year, about 2.5 billion euros is spent on domestic products, including an increasing amount of regional and local ones. More than 900 small and minuscule producers supply the stores with over 9,000 specialities. The private label “Da komm’ ich her” (I come from here) provides customers with not only many regional types of fruit and vegetables, but also regional herbs and flowers. “Ja! Natürlich,” BILLA’s private label for organic food, also includes regional specialities. Some striking products are part of this line as well, such as an organic whole rye flour produced by the Bio-Zentrum Lobau of the City of Vienna since last year. BILLA even offers “100 Prozent Österreich” (100 per cent Austria) for fresh meat, poultry, eggs, bread, baked goods and fresh milk.
“The challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic in combination with climate change have clearly demonstrated the importance of domestic food producers. Supply security, reliable regional production, high quality with transparent supply chains and short transportation routes are our top priority now,” notes Marcel Haraszti. This applies not only to products that are traditionally produced in Austria, but also increasingly to exotic food. The result is an ever-expanding range of domestic food on the shelves of BILLA stores.