Direct marketing of regional products from the source and comprehensive services around it, 'without detours and unnecessary product tourism': this is the promise of the newly founded producer organization Landfrisch AG. With around 2,000 hectares of open land and 100 hectares of greenhouse cultivation, the innovative company aims to supply German food retailers with fresh fruit and vegetables all year round and also offer comprehensive storage, fruit logistics and services. We spoke with Labinot Elshani (right), the CEO of Landfrisch AG.
Mr Elshani, could you describe Landfrisch's basic strategy?
Labinot Elshani: "Landfrisch AG was founded with the idea of offering its members, who are also shareholders and owners, modern, lean and efficient marketing without transaction losses. The organization currently consists of 31 growers from the greenhouse and open-air cultivation with a sales volume of approximately €100 million annually."
Landfrisch AG markets the produce of regional gardeners. How do you define regional?
Elshani: "The majority of our growers are located in NRW; however, we also have growers in Lower Saxony as well as Schleswig-Holstein. At Landfrisch AG, there are operations of various sizes, from pak choi specialists, for example, to iceberg lettuce specialists, to the largest, illuminated greenhouse operation in Germany. Under-glass production - for example, through the inclusion of Vitarom - primarily includes the entire range of fruit vegetables, but also products such as greenhouse strawberries. With outdoor production, we're talking about the entire range of products that are grown in our home territory, such as lettuce, cabbage, stem and root vegetables."
Which crops are most prominent and where is there potential still?
Elshani: "If we look at greenhouse production, tomato is certainly the most represented. However, there are products here that have gained significantly in importance over the past year and are now an integral part of our current production, such as eggplants and mini cucumbers. In the field, salad and cabbage vegetables are very strongly represented across the entire product range. If you look at our portfolio, we certainly also see potential in the area of regional fruit cultivation. Basically, however, we focus on the further development of the individual products, regardless of the product group. Through the best possible mix of variety selection and harvest time, we try to put the maximum impact on taste and quality."
Would it also be possible for smaller or medium-sized producers to join Landfrisch AG as members?
Elshani: "Of course, there is also the possibility for smaller farms to become a part of Landfrisch. The decisive factor is always the corresponding product and the respective specialization of the farm."
What are the most significant added values of the newly founded Landfrisch AG, both for producers and to the trade?
Elshani: "As a recognized producer organization, we optimally fulfill the producer's promotional mandate through a modern and lean marketing structure. The personalized assignment of the producers and the marketing is the strategic orientation of Landfrisch AG. We always produce in line with the market and demand for our strong, strategic partners and can thus coordinate the cultivation volume well in advance of each season. Costs incurred are allocated according to the originator and there is therefore no cross-subsidization."
As a new service provider, how are you responding to the current challenges, for example on the part of logistics?
Elshani: "Our growers and owners represent highly professional producer structures at the highest level, meeting all the requirements of the market, such as the provision of cold storage, vacuum cooling and packing machines. In addition, we provide our own bundling facilities, always close to growers."
To what extent are you looking to introduce private or house brands, for example in terms of regionality and recognition?
Elshani: "Our products will be found in many regional concepts of our strategic partners. Landfrisch will always be visible on sales packaging as the distributor. However, our focus will always be on the product and less on the brand. We select specific varieties to ensure good taste, and harvesting takes place at the optimum degree of ripeness. For us, the repeat buyers of our products are particularly important.''
How do you see the future of the fruit industry and Landfrisch AG in particular?
Elshani: "The current socio-political changes are presenting us as an industry with unprecedented challenges: Increased electricity and gas prices, higher raw material prices, the rise in minimum wages, the explosion in construction costs, increased logistics costs and a shortage of staff will threaten the existence of many family businesses. Nevertheless, German production is innovative, sustainable and courageous. Therefore, from our point of view, regionally produced products should garner significantly more appreciation. In our view, the formula for success in the future will be market- and demand-driven production, coupled with a binding and continuous purchase of this production. All this at worthwhile and market-driven prices."