After having packaged and sorted potatoes from Wijk and Aalburg for years - the Schouten family has been active in the potato trade for 80 years - Altena Potatoes moved to Veen last year. When the fruit trader C.G. Timmermans building became available, the brothers Joop and Kees Schouten quickly moved in. "My son Eddy wants to continue the business and he has every opportunity to do so in the future here."
Photo taken by Joop Schouten with a drone
The Schouten family started packing the potatoes at the new location in October. They used the opportunity to immediately expand the building by 1,100 m2 to place a new sorting line. The packaging machines are now set up in the former cask warehouse.
Altena can store 400 tonnes of potatoes per cell in each of the five cooling cells. The company also invested in a modern scale with a capacity up to 70 tonnes, with which the customers are automatically emailed the weight afterwards. In total the building has a surface of 6,500 m2 and there is another 5 hectares of ground included in the sale. "If we really want to, we can do what we want," laughs Kees.
"We were really out of space in our old location. It's noticeable how much easier space makes things. We can double the capacity with the same amount of staff. There now sometime six trucks at the dock and it's still not full. That would have been stressful at the old location. Last week we turned over a million kilos of potatoes. Whether it concerns washed potatoes in 4 kg bags or potatoes in 10 or 25 kilo packaging, it's all no problem," says the potato trader.
Although the Dutch market for table potatoes is shrinking year by year, he sees sufficient potential on the export markets. "We have our customers abroad and supply to exporters as well. It doesn't get in the way of one another. We won't be supplying the customers of our customers. But we still see big chances on the export market and they're often not that far away. The current season is dramatic for farmers, but it offers opportunities for export. If we can't sell our potatoes on the export markets with these prices, we never will."
Agria and Melody are the main varieties Altena invests in. Kees is slightly sceptical about the new varieties that have been marketed in recent years. "The expectations upon introduction are often sky high, but they turn out to have their own issues after two or so years," says the trader.
He names organic potatoes as a potential growth market. "We didn't do much in them, but obtained the SKAL certificate for the storage of organic Israeli potatoes and see opportunities in this with other origins. We have the space for it now."
Altena has built up a name with import potatoes from Southern Spain and Malta. The first Malta's are expected again in March. "It's been quite cold, but because we planted earlier we don't expect the potatoes later. People always know where to find us for the premiers, so we are positive about the season. Easter is early this year, but hopefully we will have a nice assortment by then."
Kees and Joop, who have both been in the trade for forty years, aren't thinking of quitting yet. The roles within the company are clearly divided. Whereas Kees takes care of sales and logistics, Joop is concerned with purchasing and technique and Eddy is warming up to be production leader and in sales. "We aren't considering being put out to pasture just yet, but we've got something great to leave for the next generation here in Veen!"