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Ruben Claes, New Green:

"As a smaller cooperative, we can be a nice alternative for indecisive growers"

There is currently much ado in Belgium with the upcoming BelOrta/ Belgische Fruitveiling (BFV) merger. The big cooperatives seem to be getting increasingly large. But in the shadow of these big cooperatives, New Green CVBA wants to be an alternative for indecisive growers. "I think we can be of great added value to growers who'd rather not be a number. There's room for everyone," begins Ruben Claes of the New Green cooperative, which specializes primarily in top fruit.

New Green and Bel'Export at Fruit Logistica

The cooperative is not entirely new. At Bel'Export, the idea of starting a grower's association was born in 2008, then realized in 2009. "We were already fully cooperating with several growers and doing their marketing. That led to the idea of a growers' association, where we could face the top fruit market challenges together. To meet the minimum 40-member government regulation, we partnered with Green Diamond and three more partners to form the Greenbow 'table's' legs."

"The European Community rebuffed that initiative. So, we were forced to stand on our own 'legs', which we succeeded in doing in 2009. New Green was then approved as an independent growers' association with the necessary number of growers. New Green is more than healthy today," says Ruben.

The prettiest gifts come in the smallest packages
The result? A 40-member-strong cooperative that does not want to compare itself to the BelOrtas and Hoogstratens of the world. "We certainly don't want to compete with, say, BelOrta, either. They turn over €500 million, where we're at around €45 combined with our business. We're a small player. But that works to our advantage."

"We don't want to be the biggest, but a good alternative for growers who don't want to be affiliated with a large association. Recent research shows a growing preference among growers for a more direct, personal approach. Perhaps the best response we received was, 'The best gifts come in small packages.' That's how we want to distinguish ourselves," Ruben explains.

The New Green gentlemen certainly do not consider themselves competition for the big players. "We work a lot with a BelOrta and buy a lot from them, too. We'll also always have to keep doing this; it's part of our strategy. We trade about 40 million kilos, of which our growers and we produce only 20 million kilos."

"That ensures we can adjust easily when prices are bad. We match demand with supply. We, thus, don't have to sell the top fruit we grow but can look for the best time when market demand is at its highest. Our members have, therefore, managed to earn €0.05 more than the median price every year so far. We can unburden them a little more in these times, too," says Claes.

"Look, we, too, obviously notice we have a product surplus at certain times. In apples, for example, we've also been struggling recently, but because we're a smaller cooperative, we've been able to sell all our produce. Then again, we have the advantage that we can choose when the market seems best."

Engaging in conversation
According to Ruben, a born grower, the cooperative's smaller size has another advantage. They have far more direct, personal contact with their growers. "Everyone's welcome to come and exchange views. With 1,000 growers, it's difficult to address everyone by their first name, but we like engaging in conversation," he says.

"We want to be an open house. Growers can also cancel every year without being stuck with refund arrangements. Sometimes you only receive your invested share back in instalments that sometimes take years. With us, you're not tied to anything."

The cooperative does not fear an eventual increase in growers could lead to a loss of that personal approach. "New Green is more than capable of accommodating any growers if they choose us as an alternative. Nevertheless, we're careful to ensure that expansion happens in a controlled manner so we can continue to stand out in what we do best. We'll keep growing in volumes, but we want to retain our priorities," Ruben continues.

Marketing under its own brand
The cooperative is also considering creating its own brand to market the Jonagold apples it grows. "These remain the apple of Belgium. However, quality must be delivered to keep convincing consumers, and these days, that's lacking. We want to overcome that by offering consistent, optimal quality."

"Everyone's fruit is welcome, but we want to offer only the best Jonagold apples under this brand. If necessary, we can advise growers on how to achieve the best quality. We'll be discussing this with our growers in the coming period, with the intention of starting in May. We, thus, foresee a bright future for New Green and Belgian fruit," Ruben concludes.

For more information:
Ruben Claes
New Green CVBA
2 Nerem Street
3840, Borgloon, BE
Tel: +32 (0) 122 50 110

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