This onion farmer began with a daily production of 300kg of hand-peeled onions. The business is now big in peeling and processing onions. Uien Roussel was founded in Belgium in 1996. Today it produces 30 tons of fresh onion products every day. "Peeled, segmented, diced, rings, halves, and julienned onions," says Jan Vandenabeele.
"We can deliver it all in the desired specific packaging. These range from 50g bags to 1kg bags and 1,200kg on a pallet. We process mainly yellow and red onions. But our range also has Spanish and pink onions and shallots. We offer everything in organic too. For now, this is a limited but steadily growing segment."
The Roussel family
Local for local
"Local Belgian onions have become particularly important for us in recent years. More and more onions are being grown here. That's because farmers realize that onions are products with added value. That makes them a good alternative to potatoes, for example. Onion cultivation in Belgium isn't nearly as big as in the Netherlands. The share has, however, increased significantly over the last five to ten years," explains Jan. These locally-grown onions are also all sold in Belgium.
“We supplement our supply with Dutch onions. We've been working with Waterman Onions for years for this. So, we've built a good relationship with them. But we also process French and Spanish onions. Finally, we also grow onions ourselves, but only in limited volumes. Wherever our onions come from, they are always 100% traceable. They, therefore, add to our certifications like BRC, Yum! or organic."
Not only has Belgian onion farming grown substantially in recent years. Retail is also an important reason for switching to local onions. "Onions have become speculative products. Many onions end up on the free market and aren't sold under contract. That makes this product sensitive to price fluctuations. And the retail sector hates that. When we can buy onions locally, it's easier to make price agreements. So, our customers, who supply retailers, have somewhat more price stability. Our clients are food industry, fast-food chains, and the foodservice sector companies," explains Jan.
When onions arrive at Roussel for processing, they're first refrigerated for 24 hours. "That's to improve their quality as we only work with chilled onions." The company has its own storage facilities. There, they can keep the onions for a fortnight. "We can, therefore, always work two weeks in advance. After cooling, the onions enter the production process."
"Almost everything is automated. Only 20 to 25 employees work in the entire factory. The onions are peeled or processed. And they reach the customer the very next day. Our refrigerated trucks supply our Belgian clients. For our overseas customers, we work with external transport companies," continues Vandenabeele.
“We're ideally located to supply Western Europe. We have Belgian as well as French, British, Irish, and German clients. We can reach England within a day. And with a shelf life of up to 12 days, we can deliver a good quality product. England's growing demand makes it a very attractive market for us."
Onions are essential flavor enhancers, says Jan. So, they're invariably part of most savory dishes in all cuisines - Western or Eastern. "All of Roussel's customers work only with fresh onions. That's instead of frozen ones or onion powder. This is a more than justified choice by chefs. Fresh onions give a much better taste experience and are more versatile. We also maintain our quality high through regular baking and taste tests."
“Corporate social responsibility is one of our goals. And besides 'local for local', we're also moving towards sustainability within the production process. For example, we have solar panels and purify our water. There's hardly any waste during the entire process either."
"The peels end up as raw material for a biogas system. We help promote fresh onions too. It's a versatile vegetable that has a pure flavor and countless uses. Onions are, however, too often underestimated and taken for granted. We want to help change that," concludes Jan.