"We began cultivating organic herbs a while ago but have only recently found the right moment to go public with our organic line," proclaims Tom Meijers of the Dutch company Vitacress Real. Even though organic sales dipped during the recent energy crisis due to declining purchasing power, this segment can count on a loyal target group and is growing again. In the Netherlands' neighboring Denmark and Germany, organic is huge. "We see definite potential for our brand new Vitalicious BIO-Organic label there, too."
European organic herb cultivation
This increasing consumer need, but above all, an intrinsic need, drove Vitacress Real to, last year, set up European organic herb cultivation alongside its conventional cultivation. Compared to conventional farming, organic cultivation involves considerable challenges regarding crop rotation, fertilization, and natural management. Vitacress Real has, thus, invested much time in setting this up, relying on Gipmans and the Vitacress Group's expertise and many years of experience.
The current organic line's assortment includes an integrated choice of the most popular fresh-cut and potted herbs, from flat-leaf and curly parsley to things like basil, oregano, coriander, and mint. The cut herbs come fresh from the land, and Vitacress Real packages them. Alongside this open-field cultivation, greenhouse cultivation provides some 20 varieties of organic potted herbs on ten hectares. "Several herbs are, undoubtedly, difficult to grow in Europe in the cold months, but we want to keep our footprint as close to home as possible, especially for the organic line. And we're already succeeding quite nicely," Tom says somewhat proudly.
Packaging of all sizes
It is not only open-field farming that is challenging for organic herbs; there are many rules an organic company must follow in the packaging plant, too. For example, conventional and organic cannot be processed on the same line. This new organic segment's packaging is fully recyclable, but according to Meijers, the search is on for the best material that will make the fresh-cut herbs last as long as possible. "That combination of sustainable material and the ability to extend shelf life is vital - the longer the herb stays fresh, the less food waste."
Besides 'large' 70 to 250 packs for the food service sector, Vitacress Real also offers organic products in top-sealed containers for the retail market. And for customers that deliver meal boxes to homes, 10g portion packs. "Those are boxes of ingredients for organic recipes for two to four-person households," explains Tom.
Balanced cultivation and sales
The sales manager says the new Vitalicious BIO-Organic label for shoppers who consciously choose organic has excellent potential in the European market. They are starting with specialized organic chains and will eventually possibly expand to regular supermarkets to let as many people as possible enjoy the true flavor. "We must pursue healthy, organic growth. That means first establishing ourselves well in the organic market and, once that's going smoothly, eventually expanding, including to supermarket chains. At that point, we must ensure we've done our homework well on the cultivation side. You can want to make agreements with a major retailer, but if your cultivation is not in order, you'll fail. Cultivation and marketing must always be balanced. We have that and want to keep it that way in the future," Tom concludes.