Ask a grower, and he will say every day in his greenhouse is different. Things are never boring. This will also not happen in the De Ruiter Experience Center. This Dutch breeding company opened this center 18 months ago.
They ensure things will never get boring in Bleiswijk, the Netherlands, where the center is located. They are continually adding new gadgets. The latest? A tomato that you can step into. Once inside, you can follow the tomato's journey from when it was a seed. This eyecatcher was unveiled last week.
The unveiling took place in the presence of quite a few of De Ruiter's international colleagues. They came to Bleiswijk to admire this latest gadget. At a global meeting, they also decided which fruit and vegetable varieties would be commercialized.
With everyone together, the well-known photo on the stair was, of course, a must.
Share knowledge worldwide and build networks
The De Ruiter Experience Center is the place where the breeding company gathers growers and retailers from all over the world. Here they discover, among other things, which challenges they have in common. Challenges De Ruiter then gets to work on, along with the growers. The mission is to find how fruit and vegetables can be grown in a way so as to maximize each variety in a specific climate. Even when that climate is changing drastically.
In its first year, the conference center attracted three times as many visitors as expected. This trend is continuing. Retailers know where to find the center with its demo greenhouse too. They profit from, for example, the possibility of building a global network. This is important if the retailers want to offer vegetables year-round to their local consumers. This is according to Nico van Vliet. As Trade Partnership Manager, he is in close contact with retail and sales organizations.
De Ruiter Experience Box. “Here it is possible to easily and freely collect information from, for example, people in the supermarket," says Nico. “A question is displayed on the screen. Two products or packaging are then made available. People can then make their choice known by the push of a button. This tool provides valuable information. So, supermarkets also borrow this gadget from us."
Added value to eliminate risks
For growers, it is mostly about the varieties that are being developed in Bleiswijk. During De Ruiter Academy days, growers of a certain variety meet regularly to share knowledge. For example, about the Strabena. This cherry plum tomato is three years old this year. A select number of growers cultivates it.
“This last fact makes it a little more difficult to collect data," says Franky van Looveren, De Ruiter's Sales Manager for Poland and the Benelux region. He keeps in close contact with the growers. "We talk via phone or Skype. But because we can offer real added value, the growers and retailers enjoy coming here. They can then talk face-to-face with each other. A light-hearted part of the program, such as a quick game of football, helps too.”
There is a special team that offers added value. This team is under the leadership of Jan Kamper. He is the Market Development Lead Glasshouse. They are busy with Advanced Precision Horticulture. Here, the challenge is to gather information from the ever-growing amount of data collected by sensors. This information is used to cultivate varieties better.
“Growers want to eliminate risks more and more. That is why we want to provide them with good information," says Jan. “You want to move toward being able to predict how a greenhouse variety will react to changes. For example, lessening the amount of light. Or increasing the humidity above normal."
Jan's team collates sensor data from growers greenhouses, climate data, and data from De Ruiter's own tests. They also include metadata like the date of sowing or greenhouse height. This is done to be able to make sense of all the information.
“You want to be able to compare apples to apples. That is why we deliberately clean up, and, when necessary, repair data. If gaps appear somewhere in the data set, we can fill those in too. In this way, it becomes possible to discover correlations. The ultimate goal is to be better able to predict how the different varieties of fruit and vegetables will react to circumstances. This will help growers eliminate risks," explains Jan.
"At the moment, our focus is on monitoring plant activity during the day. We want to see if there are, for example, shortages in the plant. A second focal point is on plant balance. Here it is about mapping a whole week. It goes further than just steering on a generative or vegetative basis.”
Those involved in the continued development of the De Ruiter Experience Center received a certificate from Joost van Regteren, EMEA Head Market Development, alias ‘Joost The Host’ (far links) and Gerardo Lugo, Global Head Marketing, Product Management, and Strategy, (far right) as thanks. These were awarded much to the delight of the audience and recipients themselves.
Gerardo Lugo and Svetlana Tokunova perform the opening ceremony.
By 17:00, it was time to remove the ribbon from the entrance of the ‘Journey of the Seed’. "We are proud that we can share this knowledge about 'the journey of the seed'. This is done in seven innovative, creative, technological steps in a unique ‘augmented reality tour’ in a tomato”, says Svetlana Tokunova, De Ruiter's Benelux Portfolio Manager.
By scanning a QR code in the tomato, visitors are taken on a journey. They go through the whole process of what happens before a tomato plant is eventually cultivated. "It is a journey that even growers are not well aware of," says Franky. “They order a young tomato plant and do not know exactly what preceded it. This is what we want people to see. Transparency is becoming increasingly important, also given rising pressure from pests and viruses."
The visitor can see and hear the story with the help of a smartphone.
The Global Positioning Screen.
After toasting the opening of the new tool, everyone was able to continue the ‘Global Meeting’ about new varieties more informally. These are varieties that growers and retailers can get acquainted with again soon. This can be done on an individual basis in the demo greenhouse. This greenhouse was closed for a while for a visit connected to ToBRFV.
Growers and retailers can also take a look at the Global Positioning Screen. There it shows which varieties are available. It also shows how these varieties will be put on the market. Will it be as a premium, mainstream, or budget option. This information is updated annually by Nico. "We only advise the retail sector. This is because of our knowledge, of color, taste, substance, and shape," he concludes.