The company was founded 32 years again when Simone Varenkamp’s father-in-law sold his supermarket in Rozenburg, the Netherlands, and the new owner didn’t want to buy the large cutting plant. He bought an old chicken barn, put the cutting machines in it and started Tuinderij Vers. From here he supplied freshly cut vegetable mixes to various supermarkets in the surrounding area. He gave the supermarkets 100 per cent the right to return product if it did not sell, because he was fully convinced of the quality of his products. He was successful: the company started with 25 square metres, but has now grown into a company with a working surface that will soon consist of 11,000 square metres and 360 employees.
Tuinderij Vers makes about 350 different products with fresh vegetables seven days per week. Every day, they supply to large supermarket chains and other customers in the Netherlands but also in Belgium, Germany and Denmark.
Much has also changed logistically due to the growth and professionalisation of the company. Simone: “While we used to supply customers individually using cooled vans, we now always drive to a distribution centre where we supply our products. Customers often prefer this, because being supplied multiple times per day costs a lot of time and is expensive to both parties.”
The vegetables are packaged.
Customer needs are central
The innovation within the company is mostly aimed at expanding the number of times people eat vegetables during the day. Simone: “For example, we started making chips from sweet potato, parsnip, beet and carrot last year, but we’ve also made spaghetti from pumpkin instead of pasta. Because of this, people eat more vegetables than normally, and they don’t have to make an effort for it.”
The company’s basis is still in cut vegetable packs such as soup or stir-fry vegetables, or salad mixes. However, they now also have a test kitchen in which, for instance, fresh soups, hotchpotch and ready-made meals are prepared and developed. When asked how they achieve product innovation, Simone answers: “It’s always a combined action between what you personally see and read and what the customer, in this case the supermarket, wants. Supermarket chains have extensive market research done, they have large marketing departments and put much energy in R&D. They ask us to make products for certain customer needs. The product’s innovation is sometimes in the type of vegetable used or the specific composition or the way it’s cut. A well-known vegetable can be cut and processed differently to make an entirely new product.”
Innovating based on trust
In principle, Tuinderij Vers starts long-term relationships with all cooperation partners. “That way, you can grow towards new things together, and you build trust to experiment and continue developing with each other.” When asked if the development of new products isn’t at the expense of the existing assortment, Simone says: “The market for ready-to-cook products is still growing. It sometimes happens that the sale of a new product comes at the expense of an older product, but that’s part of staying in motion and innovating.” Regarding competition in this part of the market, Tuinderij Vers has made a clear choice. “We don’t supply bulk articles, but products that get just a bit more attention.”
Benefit of local cooperation partners
The basis for each of Tuinderij Vers’s innovations is the product, which is mostly seasonal. Simone: “We prefer working with local partners, if they can handle the volume, naturally. Many wonderful products grow in our surrounding area. Besides, it’s easier to switch when your suppliers are nearby.” The suppliers are also working on innovation. “Sometimes they bring us new products, such as purple cauliflower. We then decide, in consultation, what we can make with the product, and we test if it’s successful.” However, some products come from abroad. “Bell peppers and tomatoes come from Spain in winter, for instance. That’s a matter of supply, price and quality.”
Challenges of explosive growth
One of the biggest challenges of the future for Tuinderij Vers is how to handle the enormous growth they’re experiencing. Simone: “In two years time, our number of workers has doubled in size, and that increase is still continuing. Because we aren’t a bulk company, we’ll never be able to automatise everything, and we’ll therefore always need people. Of the 360 employees, about half are in employment, and the other half are temporary employees. These people come from Voorne Putten, but also from Goeree-Overflakkee and Rotterdam. For now we’ll have plenty of physical space to continue growing.”
Source: Rotterdam Food Cluster