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Camille Depuydt, Pajottenlander:

Demand for organic juices from conventional retail is increasing

Three years ago, Camille Depuydt took over the organic fruit processor Pajottenlander. With the company located in the Flemish region, as the name suggests, Pajottenland, the entrepreneur sees opportunities for a variety of pure fruit juices, soft drinks, and energy drinks. "Since the corona pandemic, pure fruit juices have been on a positive trend. Despite it being a highly competitive market, I believe we can differentiate ourselves with our product," says Camille.

Pajottenlander was founded in 1987 when Peter Vandendaele started pressing the surplus of organic apples they grew into cloudy natural juice, and sales began to pick up. What started as a hobby grew into an established company in organic fruit and vegetable juices, and a few fruit preparations. When Camille got the keys to the kingdom in 2021, a world of opportunity opened up for her. "I've always been passionate about nutrition, which led me to look for a company to join a few years ago. Through connections, I found Pajottenlander, who were looking for a new owner. I didn't have to think long to take the plunge."

In the first years, Camille mainly focused on modernizing the company. "It was important for us to invest in the back office during the first few years with the ambitions and growth we had in mind. We noticed that we had outgrown our current setup, which necessitated professionalization. This involved usual things like a new IT system, but also creating different departments, so everyone has their specialty instead of everyone doing a bit of everything. This way, we wanted to establish a future-proof company we could move forward with, and I can say that we have succeeded," she laughs.

Contract farming
Pajottenlander specializes in the production of organic fruit juices based on fruit from a fixed number of growers. "The previous owners also grew fruit, which was used to produce the fruit juices. They still do this, and we still buy from them, but in general, we work with contract farming with about 15 to 20 fixed suppliers who provide us with the fruit. Additionally, we also buy from traders to realize the wide variety of pure juices we have in our assortment. This is actually too much to list, as it ranges from apple-beetroot juice to cranberry juice and pink grapefruit juice. In recent times, we have also invested in grain juices, soft drinks, and energy drinks. We sometimes have to hold ourselves back from launching every idea because the combinations are endless. We are bursting with inspiration, so that's why we sometimes have to restrain ourselves."

98 percent of the fruit that comes in at the organic fruit processor is for our own preparations, but they also sell fresh fruit on rare occasions. "We used to do this more than we do now, but now it's more to help others out of a bind. You have to think of years of bad harvest, where we sometimes get asked if we can supply fresh apples, which are our largest volumes, because there wasn't enough from the trees. Or artisanal brewers, who buy a batch of fruit to process in beer or ciders."

Increasing demand from conventional retail
In terms of markets, Pajottenlander is mainly active in Belgium itself. "We do some export within the EU, like a batch to the Netherlands, France, or Luxembourg, for example, but our focus is still on Belgium itself for now. We are now available at various bio-retailers in the country and also see strong growth in the hospitality industry. Moreover, it is noticeable that we are getting more and more requests from conventional retail for our organic juices. They too see that consumers are increasingly making conscious purchases and are also looking for organic. So, there is still a world for us to win, and it's important to first lay a good foundation before you overextend yourself."

The young entrepreneur definitely sees a positive trend around pure juices. "I think it mainly started during the corona period. Health became important, and pure fruit juices entered a positive flow as people looked for quality and healthy drinks. We see that this demand has continued to rise in recent years, but it remains a difficult market. The large volumes are still with the big players, making it not always easy to stay competitive. I think we can differentiate ourselves with the quality of our products, which we always focus on. We don't want to deviate from that, and this added value is appreciated in the segment we target."

Next steps
And so, the focus for the fruit juices remains on the Belgian market for now. "I also think this suits us," continues Camille. "Our story is the Belgian story. Our customers choose us for this. We source our vegetables and fruit locally, and it's also important for us to be able to tell this sustainability story. Eventually, it's not impossible to place the products in nearby foreign markets, but I think our extracts never really fit into the growth of the foreign picture."

"For now, we focus on the future and growth within our possibilities. We have laid the foundation in recent years, and in addition, we have recently acquired Nova Organic Energy, which allows us, alongside our soft drinks, to look more towards foreign markets. In doing so, you're not dependent on local fruit, but can look further afield. For our juices, the task is to consolidate growth and further position the products in the market. We are currently working with six people, but if we want to grow, we will also need to look more towards permanent sales staff. These are all steps we can, and in the coming time, want to take," she concludes.

For more information:
Camille Depuydt
[email protected]

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