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"Hein Deprez: "We have to learn to dream"

How did Greenyard Foods make close to 4 billion euro?

Greenyard has a turnover of almost 4 billion Euro and a total workforce of more than 8,000 people. Worldwide the company is the biggest player in the Fresh Produce sector. During the Pinguin and Noliko 50th anniversary celebration, Hein Deprez said that growing a business goes hand in hand with blood, sweat and tears, "The present is a result of the past, but certainly not the picture of the future," he started his speech with. "Our past and present form a strong foundation upon which we will build our future."

Hein showed an impressive film about Greenyard Foods and its divisions, Univeg, Pinguin, Noliko and Peatinvest, "If you saw this film then you could conclude that we are doing well, that we know what we want, that we know everything and that no one can tell us how to do it. But this is not true."

Success does not say anything about tomorrow
He says that the successes of the past and the present are no guarantee for the future, "When I started 25 years ago we were at the beginning of a race. Next to me on the starting line there were marathon runners. There I stood, untrained. The people next to me were top companies that knew what they were doing. They told me that I could not touch their customers or suppliers. They also indicated that they had no debts on their balance-sheets. In addition, they had cash in the bank. After the marathon started I had to create a vision and build the strength and choose a direction. After a few years I saw that there were just a few around me. Some people went back or in another direction, and I couldn't see them anymore. The more cash a company had in the bank the faster that company would run itself into the ground. My point is that at some point you can be the best in the sector, but if you don't know which direction certain things will develop, then you won't make it. Young companies with the right vision can work hard to become better. That chances are available. As long as you have the right vision, you don't have to be the best player."

Learning to dream
"With all the knowledge we have gathered we have to continue to work on the future. We must learn to dream. Dream of how the world will be in 20 or 50 years. Building a vision and developing a strategy from that vision. This needs to be gradually rolled out in all our operations. The stronger our operations are, the more successful our new strategies in the future will be."

Looking back
How did we reach 3.9 million Euro in revenue? "Market conditions were not growing, but the companies still developed because of the concept we had. Together with our retail customers we took over the market. I call this concept 'vertical logistics funnel' with all its added value in the system. The added value goes to an entire series: packaging, logistics (speed and efficiency), and the ripening of fruits and vegetables. Through this system we have only had limited growth in consumption, unfortunately. We have, in particular, taken the market share and organized the supply chain in a more efficient manner."

How will we feed 9 billion people in 2050?
Demand for food is only going to increase. According to Hein, demand from the growing world populations will be mostly met in non-sustainable ways. How are we going to feed 9 billion people sustainably in 2050? There is tremendous pressure on us! Good ground is scarce, raw materials are scarce, clean water is scarce. On the other hand, we are seeing exponential growth in knowledge and knowledge sharing. This will continue with the huge transfer of information, and transparency, from the internet. We can solve the problems we will face in the coming 30 years with the knowledge we have today."

Feeding sustainably 
Deprez is convinced that fruits and vegetables will be the key to feeding the world sustainably in the future, "We can supply high quality food with limited space and minimum resources and water. Fruits and vegetables are also healthy. This is how we can make society more sustainable and the world more liveable." 

How are we going to apply this to fresh products?
According to Hein, markets close by and far away can be fed in this manner in the future, "Demand is there and it is rising. We want to produce local, fresh products. We are busy doing this in many far away countries, also for the western world. We are also working on developing new markets and placing products there. An example is a collaboration with the Mahindra group in India. In India the newest mobile phones with internet are booming. Internet business is the future there, for our products as well. We can establish the same platforms as here in Western Europe. Delivering products to consumers will have to happen in a different way. It is possible that in the future the tuktuk will be transporting vegetables instead of people."

How will we do it with deep freeze and canned goods?
Distance can be a challenge when delivering deep freeze products and canned goods. Transport costs are often high in certain countries, many times it costs more to transport from north to south than if a container departs from Belgium. The logistical strength we have here can be used in other countries as well.

"Products come from producers and we often work directly with them. It is very important for us to provide them with innovation, knowledge and know-how. Peatinvest fulfils this role for us. They bring cultivation systems and cultivation knowledge to the producers. In this way top quality products can be produced throughout the whole world."

According to Hein, not too much is produced, "The problem is under-consumption in our markets. The current consumption is 300 grams per capita per day. We need to get to 600 grams per day. The market can be doubled. Therefore our vision is: to help people eat healthier throughout the day by letting them enjoy fruits and vegetables in a fast, easy and delicious manner, and doing this all with respect for nature. In the future we need to achieve as little waste as possible," says Hein. "Our wide assortment rotates quickly, with proper freshness and therefore less waste. In addition, our vegetables are processed in the most optimal manner, with as little waste as possible. The little waste that there is, is 100% recycled. 

Urban Farming
Urban Farming is trending right now and Hein sees this as a good trend, "The best and biggest example of Urban Farming is the use of greenhouses. We are big proponents of Urban Farming, and of consumers growing their own fruits and vegetables. Hein says laughing, "First and foremost because we can deliver the soil and materials. We supply this mainly to the hobby market. The more people grow their own fruits and vegetables, the more respect they have for the products, which results in people consuming more fruits and vegetables."

Click here to see the photo album for the 50th anniversary of two of Greenyard's divisions.

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