Eelco van Putten is always up for something new. That is why the sprout cultivator from Dirksland likes pioneering with new products. Eelco is a member of cultivator’s cooperative Van Nature, and together they have been working on innovating Brussels sprouts for years already. After being introduced to purple sprouts five years ago, the first harvest of Kalettes followed two years ago, although they were still called Flower Sprouts then. Kalettes are a cross between sprouts and kale. “It is wonderful to be able to market a new vegetable. By now, Kalettes have been discovered on a large scale throughout Europe!”

At the moment of the meeting with Eelco at the beginning of December, it is not easy to meet demand for sprouts. “There is a massive shortage, and prices are currently sky-high. It is good that it is rewarded, but these prices will not immediately bring a golden age, considering the lower volumes. The average amount we receive is fairly good, but definitely not very good.”

The scarcity is a cause of the changeable weather conditions, according to the cultivator. “After a wet June, we had a hot July, and September and October were too dry. And it is exactly those dry months that killed off yields. We have often had an abundance of rain in September, but we did not this year. In hindsight, we should have irrigated more, we were too reserved in that.”

No manual
Eelco: “The four trade partners Van Nature sells our products to, have shown much interest for the purple sprouts and Kalettes. The majority of the sprouts goes to Germany, but demand is also good in Scandinavia, and the Dutch are also starting to discover Kalettes. As a cultivator, you sometimes want to expand too quickly, but it just takes a number of years and many marketing efforts before a product is well-known. Cultivation-wise it is also challenging. The cultivation is mostly similar to the cultivation of sprouts, but Kalettes need a very different fertilisation regime. And new vegetables do not come with a manual. But I actually enjoy that kind of pioneering!”

“Time is on our side. Cabbages in general are receiving much attention. I also think cabbage fits well into a vegetarian diet. More and more people are looking for meals with less or no meat. If you stir-fry sprouts with nuts and cheese, you would not even miss meat, and you would not be hungry anymore either. The biggest challenge is presenting vegetables in such a way that people are looking forward to them, and do not use meat for a change. That is a challenge we as a vegetable sector should be facing.”

Together with Van Nature, Eelco has presented a mix pack of Kalettes, green and purple sprouts. “This month, the packaging can be found in certain shops. The recipe is simple. The green and purple sprouts just have to be cleaned quickly, and then add the Kalettes ten minutes later. You will end up with a wonderful range of colours on your plate.”

Dying sprouts purple?
“I enjoy having contact with consumers at fairs and events. I am often asked whether we paint our sprouts purple. People who think that, do not buy the sprouts. But purple sprouts and Kalettes are gradually leaving the niche, and people know how to appreciate the vegetables. Demand started in the UK exclusively from restaurants, and is now reaching all consumers.”

Eelco expects increasing demand for the range of sprouts towards the holidays. “Especially from the UK, where sprouts are Christmas vegetable number one. That demand is already starting. We just have the challenge of meeting demand with the scarce availability. But that will sort itself out as well,” the cultivator concludes.

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