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Van Vugt Kruiden grows along with client demand

'Time to expand and modernize,' the folks at Van Vugt Kruiden in the Netherlands recently thought. Why? To become more sustainable and grow along with the increasing demand for healthy herbs and baby leaf vegetables. Thus, last year, the company purchased five hectares for additional cultivation under glass, and soon, 3,000 m2 will be added to the processing area. Piet Van Vugt and son-in-law Thomas Bahlman explain the choice.

Piet and Thomas harvestin basil automatically

We recently had our hands pretty full with keeping up with how our retail and hospitality clients were growing," Thomas begins. "We were running up against our production limit, both in cultivation and processing. In the herb segment, we'll especially scale up basil, dill, cilantro, celery, and flat and curly parsley cultivation. We offer these last three, together with chives and chervil, all-Dutch all year round."

Increasing production capacity by half
"There's also no end in sight for the baby leafs' advance," adds Piet. "And as our customer orders ramp up, we must ensure each is fulfilled to perfection daily. We can only do that if we add a few more production lines, a new washing line, and more refrigeration space to the processing area. It's here, in the baby leaf department, where there's the most increase - 50% - in production capacity. Overall, the Van Vugt Kruiden expansion provides 30% more available space.

In the baby leaf segment, arugula and mesclun are toppers supplemented by baby spinach and lamb's lettuce. "Around that, we still do a lot of specific mixes, such as bistro mixes and, for the German market, wildkräuter mixes. We grow things like mizuna, tatsoi, and red pak choi for that," says Thomas.

Baby leafs ordered daily
The increased baby leaf demand at Van Vugt Kruiden is partly due to the ease with which customers can place daily orders. "Driving the product here from Italy takes time. And that often means planning a week ahead. Some buyers don't want that; they prefer to order on a daily basis. They can do that with us, just as they do for herbs."

In the winter, they do source some herbs and baby leaf vegetables from contract growers in France, Italy, and Spain. "We want to serve our clients year-round. So in the cold months, we bring in the baby leafs and herbs, which we cannot grow ourselves in the Netherlands, in bulk from the south. We do the packaging, and if we have a surplus, we sell it on the open market," Piet explains.

Sustainability is standard
Besides rising demand, sustainability is also a driving force behind the changes Van Vugt Kruiden is undergoing. It is Thomas' favorite area of work. "Of every step, from sowing to harvesting and packaging design to transportation, we take in the chain," says Piet's son-in-law, "we ask ourselves whether it's sustainable. Our trying to provide as much Dutch product as possible is proof of that. And we no longer let our customers choose between products that are or aren't PlanetProof or non-recyclable of recyclable trays. There's only one choice: the sustainable option."

So, the company's production site no longer has a gas connection, almost the entire machine park is electric, minimal pesticides are used during cultivation, and full efforts are made to reuse water.

The war against waste
Regarding packaging, Piet and Thomas are not – somewhat contrary to the market trend – not entirely convinced 'bags' are more sustainable than 'trays' for herbs in the retail sector. "The reason is simple," says Piet. "There seems to be more loss with bagged herbs, both on the shelf and in consumers' homes. We, obviously, don't deny the hefty plastic savings. But does it outweigh the increased wastage? Only time will tell if pouches will work in stores."

Van Vugt Kruiden has, however, developed a new resealable tray for the hospitality sector, one in which fruit and vegetable suppliers have more freedom around packaging choices. "Effectively, buyers are returning from bags to trays," states Thomas. "Those are more convenient in the kitchen and, as mentioned, waste less."

The company promises its customers a year-round product range that is delivered 'to the last tray' every day and that also undergoes sustainability testing. "But there's something else that typifies us: price. We spring no surprises on clients. We work with only two prices: a winter and a summer one. We make clear agreements and stick to them," Thomas concludes.

Van Vugt Kruiden
16 Hoogzandweg
2988 DA, Ridderkerk, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 (0) 180 625 660
Email: [email protected]