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Spring onions big business for cutting plants, not for onion trade

Dutch onion exporters annually sell more than one million tonnes of Dutch onions to 120 countries. Within that onion export, we see the complete range of planting and seed onions, yellow and red onions, shallots and sweet onions. But although different companies become specialised, spring onions hardly fit into the Dutch cultivation plan at all.

According to Carl van de Wiel, who is specialised in shallots and red and pink onions with his sorting and packing station, Agro Centre Holland, that makes sense. “Spring onions require a completely different approach than regular onions, and do not fit in with the activities of a company that only processes dried onions. In fact, it’s better to compare spring onions to lettuce. They need cold and moisture, and can’t be stored for long periods of time.”

Grower Marcel Jacobs from Maasbree, the Netherlands, saw opportunities in the cultivation of spring onions to stay outside of the bulk assortment a few years ago. “About 95 per cent of spring onions in the Netherlands come from abroad. I’m convinced there’s a market for spring onions grown in the Netherlands. However, it is pioneering, and you really have to build a market for it. But for now, competition from Germany and Egypt, where growing the onions is cheaper, is large.”

“Incomprehensibly, retailers often choose German spring onions. It’s quite difficult for us to compete, because our labour costs are much higher. However, the country of origin is becoming increasingly important for fresh produce, and that’s why I expect  a growth market for Dutch spring onions. During the winter season we get our spring onions from abroad, so that we can supply year-round. These spring onions are first processed and checked before they are sent to the customer.”

By now, Jacobs has set up about seven hectares for growing spring onions. He mainly supplies these to cutting plants, the sales of which are taken care of by Verscombi from Eindhoven, which is specialised in fresh produce semi-manufactures. For the grower, the season lasts from June until October. “It’s a fun cultivation. When the season’s over we’ll see if it’s also a profitable one,” the grower says. 

Another advantage he can offer is that the spring onions can be supplied clean, without rubber bands and roots. “We purchased a machine that removes the bottom from the onion. For cutting plants it’s an additional movement to remove two rubber bands from the onions every time. The fresh product can be added to the processed package as is. We can also offer the spring onions in bunches.”

That final point is a major advantage, confirms Frank van Weerdenburg from Verscombi. “We supply many spring onions to meal producers. They’re not looking for rubber bands. When you order a pallet of spring onions from Egypt, you’ll also get 8,000 rubber bands. Our buyers think it’s great that we supply them loose. We also have our grower in Egypt supply them like this.”

Although the cultivation in the Netherlands is still limited, cutting plants definitely appreciate the product, according to Frank. “It’s becoming a larger product in meals and salads. We daily supply them fresh to many cutting plants. Until autumn we can be on the market with a good, fair and reliable Dutch product.”

Publication date: 9/11/2017


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