Much has changed at Coöperatie Hoogstraten in the past year. Since the beginning of this year, Hans Vanderhallen has been the new director, work is underway to realise a new office and the cooperative has drawn up a new mission and vision to clarify the strategy. The mission statement is: "Shaping a sustainable future in fresh fruit and vegetables together through craftsmanship and high-quality services." “This short sentence has a lot of substance,” explains chairman Dirk Van den Plas, who spent a lot of time together with the board on Coöperatie Hoogstraten's future plans.
Hans Vanderhallen and Dirk Van den Plas
"The key to the mission is the words 'together', which not only includes the stakeholders and the producers, but we also want to involve the customers and our staff," says Hans Vanderhallen. “That also applies to sustainability. When we talk about sustainability, we are not only talking about energy and production methods, but also about business operations. Further in the mission we speak about craftsmanship and service. That is building knowledge and expertise to attract the right people and giving them the opportunity to build knowledge and expertise at the service of our producers and buyers. ”
What the cooperative will also strongly focus on in the coming years is bringing the producers together so that they share their knowledge and expertise. “We want to evolve from a traditional marketing cooperative to an open knowledge centre,” says Dirk and Hans. “With REO and BelOrta, we have started an ambitious digitisation project under the umbrella of LAVA. In the first phase, we build a digital assistant with which our producers can register data and then use it to optimise their business operations, and then share it with their cooperative, fellow producers and other actors in the chain. In the next steps, we also want to bring the interaction with our buyers and our internal business processes to a higher digital level through this platform and make it future-proof. ”
“We have noticed that our growers want to switch to a higher level and we can play a major role in this as a cooperative. There are countless study groups, but we want to give knowledge sharing an extra dimension. The producer of the future will undoubtedly be even more concerned with data than it is today. When we talk about high-quality services from the cooperative, this is a tool that we want to offer to our cooperatives. We are convinced that working together makes us stronger,” says Hans.
Focus and specialisation
“Looking at opportunities in the future, there is the opportunity to expand our offering. However, we also realise that our limited product range allows us to optimally focus, specialise and innovate. Broadening our product range will therefore initially be done with products that are additional to our current package; strawberries, tomatoes and peppers. For example, in recent years we have added some soft fruit, which creates marketing opportunities in combination with our strawberries. Regarding tomatoes, we have all scents, colours and flavours in our range. Our task is to bring unity to the diversity of products and our growers. Everything has its own needs and expectations and as a cooperative we must ensure that there is room for every producer and every product and that the producers and products reinforce each other. ”
“Auction has only improved”
Although innovation is very important for the future, the director also advocates looking at things that are already working well. “The best example is the auction. The end of the auction has been predicted so many times, but to this day we see that the auction really does its job.” Dirk emphasises that the auction has only improved. Especially when looking at the concentration of strawberries on auction. “It is a misunderstanding if we think that the auction is the same as in the 1980s. So many things have changed, such as block lot sales and presales. We look much more at what the buyer wants and also offer it via the auction, so that they can create added value for their customers. ”
Grower Mark van Aert about switching from CLTV Zundert to Coöperatie Hoogstraten
Coöperatie Hoogstraten has been working with the Dutch cooperative CLTV Zundert for decades and since last year, virtually all growers have jointly made the switch to Coöperatie Hoogstraten. “It was a logical step for me to switch to Hoogstraten,” explains strawberry grower Mark van Aert. “The products have been marketed by Hoogstraten for years and CLTV Zundert was only a service location. I knew the way of working, the way of handling and the quality requirements that are placed on the products and I have always been very satisfied with that. ”
Strawberry grower Mark van Aert
One point of attention that Van Aert would give the cooperative is the attention for the open ground strawberry. “I have always been an outdoor cultivator and in recent years a lot of covered cultivation has been added, so that the outdoor strawberries have been pushed a bit into the background. Fortunately, Coöperatie Hoogstraten always listens seriously to its growers and they are busy putting the outdoor strawberry back in the picture again. They do this by means of new packaging where the open ground theme is more prominent. ”
“I never doubted my switch to Coöperatie Hoogstraten, but I would not recommend it to certain growers. It is a way of working that does not suit everyone. The quality requirements are at a high level and not every grower can or wants to meet those requirements. These high quality requirements make Hoogstraten's position in the market very strong. Now that there are a lot of economies of scale in the market, it is important to have two strong parties in the market, such as The Greenery and Coöperatie Hoogstraten. We are going to have more and more direct contacts with the retailer, but I would argue that we should do that through the cooperatives. Together you are stronger,” concludes Mark.
Annual general meeting
The interview with director Hans Vanderhallen, chairman Dirk Van den Plas and strawberry grower Mark van Aert took place in response to the general meeting of Coöperatie Hoogstraten that took place on Tuesday evening 9 June. The 2019 financial statements were approved at the meeting. The annual accounts as of 31/12/2019 resulted in a balance sheet total of € 47,289,317.09 and a profit to be appropriated of € 851,656.85. The general meeting unanimously approved the proposed distribution of profit of; to pay a dividend of € 19,548 (6%) to the capital and to add € 832,108.85 to the other reserves. In the resultant processing, a cooperative refund of 0.95% on 2019 sales was foreseen for all producers.