Van Vugt Kruiden has many clients in the hospitality industry. This Dutch company was, therefore, greatly affected by the corona crisis last year. "But fortunately we have a good spread of customers. The hospitality sector took considerably less, of course. However, our retail customers in Europe sold considerably more," Piet van Vugt says.
"Sales of typical supermarket herbs such as basil, coriander, parsley, and celery continued to progress well. But sales of hotel and catering items such as mint and edible flowers fell sharply. That's why we've significantly reduced our range of specialty herbs."
The herb grower, nevertheless, remains optimistic about the future. "Last summer, we already saw that when everything opens up, sales immediately explode. Last week, the COVID-19 measures were relaxed a little. So, demand increased nicely. Nobody has stock. And all the eateries want to serve fresh herbs to their guests again," says Piet.
"Those first loads are even bigger than when the weather's nice, or it's a busy weekend. So the previous weekend, everything was in an uproar, but we're well equipped for that. The short-term outlook remains uncertain. However, we're convinced things will work out. It's very tricky to plan, but we'll continue to sow. That's so we can serve our buyers at any time when it's possible again."
Piet remains extremely vigilant that the company sticks to the COVID-19 measures. "We've appointed several people to monitor this constantly. After all, it would be unthinkable to have to close down due to a corona outbreak. Luckily, our employees have been very active and positive. And we've been able to keep everyone on board. A big advantage is that we've bought a company bus. It drives staff from the station to the business. People are, therefore, dropped off at the door. That's ideal for our employees who come from, say, the center of Rotterdam."
"We remain generally positive. We're working hard on things like innovations and sustainability initiatives. Last year, for example, we managed to use 60,000kg less plastic. We expect to exceed that this year. We achieved that mainly by working with thinner plastic. And using different materials such as rPET. What's the most sustainable solution from source to consumer? That was the key question for us. Because there's a lot of packaging that seems sustainable, but it negatively impacts the environment," continues Piet.
Sustainability trumps all
"We try to work as sustainably as possible in every facet of the business. For instance, in the second phase, we have just filled our new building's roof with another 1,700 solar panels. Our slightly heated company has two 300kW electrical boilers. We get residual heat from the cold stores. There are two heating networks (low and high). And two screening systems and expertly insulated walls. These complete the energy picture. All this makes our company 100% emission-free. The solar panels produce enough electricity annually to cover our own needs."
"We're also increasingly limiting food miles. The Dutch season is currently in full swing. We manage to have most herbs available all year round, grown locally. Only if there's no other option do we import products. That's to ensure continuity. By now, we have about 25 varieties of common herbs available year-round," says Van Vugt.
"We have a wide range of seasonal herbs and edible flowers too. All of which we grow in our Dutch greenhouses. Many parties present themselves as producers. But we can truly say we're growers. We do everything ourselves. We can, therefore, always deliver high-quality, reliable products."
Van Vugt also supplies organic herbs. But Piet says they won't develop this further. "We prefer to focus on clean cultivation, under the PlanetProof standard. We don't spray most of the herbs. But we can intervene if it's really necessary," adds Piet.
The company has put considerable effort into marketing in recent years. That includes social media. "We want to be an inspiration platform for our clients and people who buy our products. That's why we have things like presentations and photos. Our clients can then give their customers accurate information. Fifteen years ago, we deliberately decided not to develop our own brand. We're still pleased with that. Many of our buyers sell our herbs under private labels. So, they can distinguish themselves in their segment. We can, therefore, fill any size order too."
Piet's managed to transfer his love of herbs to the next generation. His children, Maya, Henk, Maryn, and Geert, are also active in the business. As is his and son-in-law, Thomas. "I'm very proud of them. Everyone has their tasks and responsibilities. That works well. We're strong together," Piet concludes.