Since 18 September, Colruyt and OKay customers were able to find potatoes that resulted from a close partnership between the Colruyt Group and 16 local farmers. This concerns 5kg bags of Boni Selection Friet (Fries) and Everyday Zachtkokend (Soft-boiling) potatoes. This new potato harvest is the culmination of a test project that was set up last year. It aimed to achieve a consistent level of quality and to guarantee a stable price for the growers. Participants also wanted to extend the Belgian potato season. This successful test showed that a relationship based on trust had been built between the various partners. Here, they can share their knowledge and experience.
Lengthening the season in Belgium
Last year's test project met expectations. Rony Neufkens, the Colruyt Group's Vegetable Sales Manager, says, "The 2017-2018 season was, however, exceptionally difficult. This was partly due to the hot weather and partly due to the oversupply. Together, we succeeded to extend the Belgian potato season by a month. We then switched over to imported potatoes. We were also able to guarantee a stable price for our nine partners suppliers."
During the test period, the potatoes were available in 78 Colruyt stores. Given the positive results, it was decided to offer these potatoes in all of Colruyt and OKay's stores in Belgium. These total more than 370 stores. To make this a reality, another seven farmers joined the project this year.
The early potatoes were planted in sandy/sandy-loam soil in East and West Flanders between March and May. The late varieties, on the other hand, are planted in sandy-loam/loamy soil in Wallonia. The growth is being closely monitored by expert cultivation supervisors. The harvest will be brought to market as 5kg bags of Boni Selection Friet (Fries) and Everyday Zachtkokend (Soft-boiling) potatoes.
The Colruyt Group is the first Belgian distributor to set up a partnership of this kind with local potato farmers. Earlier, these growers hardly ever came into direct contact with the supermarket chains. In contrast, in this project, the farmers sit with Colruyt and share knowledge. For example, together, they selected varieties that are best suited to local soils. They also made quality agreements. "This partnership proved even more valuable when we were confronted with the extremely dry conditions of the past summer", explains Rony Neufkens. “By helping each other, the partnership just became stronger."
The Colruyt Group wanted to shine a light on the expertise of Belgian potato farmers. They also wanted these growers to be less dependent on highly fluctuating potato prices. In this 'shortened' chain, the benefits and risks are fairly divided.
Participants tell of their experiences
“As a buyer, I am very pleased that we can offer our customers high-quality products until the very end of the season. In this project, the growers, as well as the people from Colruyt, have learned an enormous amount from each other. The had to continuously find the best solutions. It is also important that we can now adjust our supply to meet the demand", the Colruyt Group's potato buyer, Marc Boesman, says.
“As producers, we now feel more involved. It is nice to know who our customers are and where our potatoes are being sold. Our close relationship with the Colruyt Group means we are doubly motivated to set the quality bar even higher", says late potato cultivation supervisor, Patrick Van de Steene, who is also a farmer from Henegouwen.
“This shortened chain ensures that there is a more dynamic link between the products and the Colruyt Group. I am very satisfied with the level of quality we have achieved", states Wouter Devlies. He is an early potato cultivation supervisor in West Flanders.
“This is the second year in a row that my brother and I have worked directly with the Colruyt Group. It is always very motivating to be able to tell friends that our potatoes can be found in a Colruyt or OKay store in their neighborhood. I am very proud of this. In this way, we can stay abreast with what our customers think of our products. We can, therefore, also tailor our supply to meet the demand," explains Philippe Brion, who farms in the region of Tourinnes-Saint-Lambert.
“I am new to this project. I became involved after hearing from a colleague. He took part in the test phase. Before, I used to mainly supply industrial potato processors. Needless to say, working for Colruyt and OKay's customers is far more satisfying for me", says Henk Dewaele, a grower from Ruiselede.
“Every link in the chain benefits from this partnership. The climate, of course, plays a role. However, thanks to this collaboration we, nevertheless, have better control of the different factors. Storing the potatoes well, of course, remains crucial.” This is according to Bart Nemegheer, manager of the family-run packaging company, Aardappelhoeve. He also farms in the Belgian region of Tielt.