Dutch supermarket chain Plus recently made its organic fresh assortment into a showpiece of the fresh produce departments in their shops. Their own consumer research shows consumers enjoy easy-to-find sustainable organic food. That’s why Plus combined organic fresh produce in one department two years ago, and this became successful. In week 20 of 2018, this department will be moved to the most prominent place in the fresh produce department, the A-location.
Milieukeur is another step towards a more sustainable fresh produce supply chain. Plus wants all of their Dutch products to become Milieukeur certified by late 2019. Right now, 50 per cent of their fruit and vegetables from Dutch soil is Milieukeur certified, including many of the fresh cut fresh produce, such as endive, leek, mushrooms, rocket salad, lamb’s lettuce and carrots supplied by Hessing, one of their strategic partners. Nanouk: “It’s quite special that we have a broad Milieukeur-certified assortment that’s ready-to-cook. We managed to take major strides, because our partners also think this is important. Not everyone can handle Milieukeur, it’s difficult to source certified products particularly outside of the Netherlands. When the vegetables are of Dutch origin again, the number of certified products will increase. Programmes for cucumber, aubergine, bell pepper and courgette have already been arranged. It remains difficult that we’re still in the preparatory phase, and with the market share we now have, you have to make sure you receive plenty of volume.”
In Nanouk’s opinion the switch to Milieukeur will have a cost price increasing effect particularly in the preparatory phase. Nanouk: “Milieukeur is much carried in the Netherlands, and I therefore expect more foreign growers will also start working with it.” If more growers are certified, the price effect will therefore decline again.
“We want to be a supply chain director”
Transparency can also be classified as Good Food. “The origin of the product is important for consumers. That’s why we’re also working on transparency more. We want to be a supply chain director. That means you want to know everything about your product and where it’s from. That way, Plus can make a thorough decision based on our preconditions, both from the perspective of sustainability and product specifications. When a grower can meet the specifications and supply plenty of volume, we can bring that grower into our vision as well. For the coming asparagus season we can be transparent about the origin of our asparagus. In our campaigns, we’ll mention the grower who supplies our asparagus, and we’ll show who they are.”
Butterhead lettuce grown on water
The Good Food policy is also about quality. Nanouk gives the example of butterhead lettuce. “Butterhead lettuce has a number of tricky periods throughout the year when quality is actually not good enough. We’ll therefore soon start with Dutch butterhead lettuce grown on water that’s Milieukeur certified. That’s a better product qualitatively because it has a longer shelf life, consumers can enjoy it longer and less has to be thrown away. Moreover, the Dutch butterhead lettuce is transported across fewer miles between production and shop, so it’s also more sustainable in that regard. We’re trying to come full circle.”
Making things easier for consumers
One development Plus is responding to, is the convenience trend. “We’re still seeing a rising line in the ready-to-cook assortment from the refrigerators. Within that segment, meal salads are an important growth segment. The campaigns we have for this are focused on flavour and convenience.” Loose fresh produce also sees a development that makes things easier for consumers: the meal kits for soups, lasagne, couscous and curries. Nanouk: “We see consumers want to do something themselves for their meals, but also that they’re looking for convenience. We can perfectly meet that desire with meal kits. These contain herbs, a recipe and a measured amount of loose fresh produce so that consumers have to throw nothing out. Meal kits are currently experiencing an explosive growth. The kits are now still spread across the departments. That’s why we’ll also make it easier for consumers to find them by placing them in an A-location. We’ll also expand with new recipes and by introducing kits under our own brand.” The growth of meal kits is putting pressure on the sales of regular loose product, but not in the organic segment. “Convenience doesn’t really play a part in organic,” Nanouk says. Plus makes it more appealing to buy loose fresh produce with pick&mix actions. Customers can then easily buy fruit and vegetables for a number of days at a good price.
Maintenance and target audiences
Plus adjusts its assortment in shops to customer profiles and its own consumer research. “We work with so-called personas and we know which customer visits which shop. Besides, we have a customer panel of more than 30,000 customers who we regularly ask about topics and themes for feedback.”
Plus regularly maintains its fresh produce assortment. “We work with a winter and a summer range. Twice a year we carry out major maintenance and take a close look at our entire assortment. Besides, we change the products entering and leaving the shop twice a week, either because they’re not doing well or because we reorganise due to availability and quality, so that we always have the best products on our shelves.”
Nanouk van Leeuwen