Bio Freshi is a Dutch company that supplies both the fresh and industrial markets. Three years ago, it expanded its portfolio with so-called 'green vegetables'. That was at the behest of its growers and buyers. "They're growing wonderfully. Cultivating for the industry is an entirely different business," says Gerrit Jan Roza. "The volumes are much larger, as are the values. The fresh market is a stable factor. So, we dared to further expand this branch of our company. Besides, these cultivation goals complement each other perfectly."
In 2017, the company began the process of setting up an organic chain for these green vegetables. The first commercial harvest was in 2018. Gerrit Jan has been involved in the organic sector for years. So, he has an extensive network of growers and other parties in that sector. "We started with industrial vegetables. That was based on our expertise and the contacts." Bio Freshi supplies the retail channel in cooperation with Jansen-Dongen.
From this collaboration, the first deliveries were made. Not to get rid of batches, but to obtain value for certain sizes, quality, or other deviation. This industrial vegetables range now includes spinach, peas, beans, and carrots. But also celeriac, cauliflower, leeks, onions, and beetroot. This season, they'll add various bean and cabbage varieties.
"Organic market growth is about five percent, depending on the product. Ours is much higher. Every year new growers, as well as customers, join us," says Gerrit Jan. In 2020, this growth seemed to stabilize. That was due to sufficient European supplies and the good 2019 yields. Nevertheless, the growth continued, also due to the COVID-19 situation. "This year, we've sown 40% more. We've even needed more acreage for some product groups. Also, some growers have adopted a flexible attitude. They've sought opportunities in their expansion plans."
Run machines themselves
In recent years, Bio Freshi has attracted farmers from all over the Netherlands. These are a mix of those who have switched and existing growers. The Dutch province of Groningen took an initiative to develop organic farming in that region. Bio Freshi signed that agreement in 2018. Thus, they made contact with growers in the north of the country. "In North Holland, growers who previously didn't grow anything for the industry have started working with us."
"We meet twice a year. In the spring, we see each other in the field. In the winter, we meet to discuss cultivation," continues Roza. Martin de Vries is the cultivation and harvest supervisor at Bio Freshi. He sees the growers much more frequently. "In the autumn, we discuss how the various crops fared. We also get customer expectations for the coming season. Then we draw up a sowing plan and deliver the seeds. Once sown, it takes some patience to see if the plants germinate. Or if we have to reseed somewhere or do something else."
"During that time, we visit the field about once every three weeks. When it's almost harvesting time, we go more often. That's to read the various indicators' values per crop. And to determine when to harvest," Martin explains. Harvesting is done by region. Bio Freshi runs the machines. "So, we're completely independent and can harvest exactly when we want," adds Gerrit Jan. "This season, we're going to work with a bean-picking machine. That'll be in close cooperation with Kees van Dun from Rutten." This is a Dutch agricultural service supply agency.
The company supplies the fresh market from one location, the industrial vegetables from another. It's strongly oriented towards the Northern European market. Gerrit Jan expects even more expansion opportunities. "There's a clear rise in demand for biodynamic products. Especially from Germany, where products with the Demeter quality mark sell better in the retail sector." He cites legumes as an example of growth potential. "Pulses are protein-rich, and there's an interest in this."
"We can give new depth to this product flow. You have to consider different customers and markets." Bio Freshi will keep focusing on a transparent chain. "Our goal's always been that the grower has a clear idea of his sales area. And that clients know, down to the plot, where the products originate. We're the link between growers and buyers. There are no other trading partners. Traceability is a must in this sector. This method, therefore, fits in especially well with the organic market," Gerrit Jan concludes.