In the Netherlands, Elshof Organic Fruit's organic top fruit acreage is steadily expanding. "Every year, one or two organic growers join us. We now represent an area of around 200 hectares," says Robert Elshof. He's not concerned that the market will become saturated. "We can cope well with this growth. Our sales force is well equipped for it."
"This year's organic apple yields are a little lower than last year's. But, the organic pear yields are a little higher. However, sales of both products are good. The organic apples are selling particularly well. We're delighted with that. There aren't many batches suitable for prolonged storage. Not after the hot summer we had. But these apples taste great. Pear sales are, generally, modest. We, however, have a wide range of clients. So, we're well on schedule."
"As in the conventional market, organic apples sales are a domestic affair. But, we sell our pears throughout Europe. We're well represented in places like Scandinavia and Germany. The United Kingdom is also an important market for us. This difference in our clients' scale and spread is vital. Our clientele includes large supermarkets. But we value our clients that buy only one or two small, less-common sizes pallets too. After all, every size and quality needs a home," says Robert.
According to Robert, the 'good old' varieties like Elstar and Conference also do well on the organic market. "Xenia pears are a nice addition. But, in my experience, it will never overtake the Conference. There is room for a suitable organic apple variety for the second half of the season, though. The first half is generally well filled. The second half is, however, still often filled with imported fruit. This is where Dutch shoppers have the room and desire for local organic apples. We're responding to this more and more successfully with our BelleBio variety."
Robert; and organic Xenia pears
Bio Grownection platform
Robert is increasingly less busy with his own farming and sales. "Fortunately, I have terrific people who take care of that. I consider it my mission to, along with the growers, raise awareness levels. The organic sector is in the midst of professionalization. We've set up the Bio Grownection platform for this purpose. We sell on a niche market. So, growers have to work together to teach people about this kind of farming."
"Organic cultivation involves greater risks. By working together, we can make it very profitable. We help growers when they switch, and that results in improved quality. I always say, 'if you help someone else, you also help yourself.' That may sound idealistic, but I think it's a pure market reality. If a fellow farmer delivers lower quality, that affects your market too," explains the grower.
"I, too, was taught to focus on the cost price. But our company truly strives for only win-win situations. No one in our chain should ever profit at the expense of another. Then every link in the chain wins. We start from an added value model. A product has a certain value. Our services and quality add to that. It's a completely different purchasing model."
"It's very different from margins always being at the growers' expense. Buyers are, luckily, increasingly buying into this idea. They also prefer to have discussions with reliable parties. They work with these parties for a long time. Buyers see that short-term profit just causes problems in the long term," says Robert.
"That means something for us too. 'You should be able to buy from us blindly,' I sometimes say. Values such as corporate social responsibility, land use, and sustainable energy are also embedded in our business operations. We want to score high on all those aspects," Elshof continues. "Many farmers grumble about the rules imposed on them by the government."
"But we want to take it a step further. We're already doing that to a certain degree. For example, our fruit comes only from cold stores that use sustainably generated power. However, we want to keep raising that bar. The next step is to provide a soil life guarantee. That will be using a measurable method that goes beyond Skal or any other certification."
"That means you have to pay attention all the time. You must work hard and remain efficient. We also have competition. But, when looking at the big picture, purchasing is no longer the most relevant issue. Our clients want to grow alongside us too. Then you understand each other and also get a fair price for the product. Above all, it's satisfying to be able to substantiate everything you do," concludes Robert.