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Menno Keppel and Thomas Ruiter, D.A.T.T. Co. Ltd:

Asia: Dutch agri entrepreneurs prosper with tomatoes in Thai market

In 2004, Dutch entrepreneurs Thomas Ruiter and Menno Keppel dipped their toes in Thai agriculture. Now, ten years later, they are the proud founders behind the well known Thai tomato brand Take Me Home. What started as a demonstration greenhouse for their seed varieties is nowadays a well oiled vegetable production, built on Dutch knowledge and backed by a group of educated local contract growers. Time to sit down and learn all the ins and outs of starting up a greenhouse business in the land of smiles.

After their study at Hogeschool Utrecht, Menno Keppel and Thomas Ruiter already knew they would break ground with their own business in Thailand; the pair did some market research for a Dutch company for a few months, and after several visits to the country they decided to settle in Thailand to market agricultural inputs, including seeds to local farmers. For this occasion they needed a demonstration site, which soon evolved into a advanced production site. "We had no idea where to go with the harvest," said Thomas Ruiter when referring to the start up of the vegetable marketing activities. "Just like the growers who bought seed from us, we had a lot of quality produce to market, which made us decide to start with professional marketing activities beside the seed distribution."
Keppel and Ruiter decided to market their tomatoes under the Take Me Home brand. Together with several contract growers they managed to realize contracts with leading Thai retailers such as Tesco Lotus, Tops Market, Villa Market and The Mall Group. Ruiter: "High quality greenhouse grown tomatoes appear to be a very good commodity in the Thai market, and Thai retailers appreciate them with good prices in return. Not so many local farmers are familiar with growing on hydroponics yet and we were one of the first to introduce advanced cultivation systems."

Nowadays, Take Me Home has two hectares of greenhouses of their own, supplemented with 2 hectares owned by contract growers. All of the tomatoes are grown in greenhouses on coir substrate, and Keppel and Ruiter supervise the quality and production standards. All produce is sorted, packed, and shipped from a central packing station.


New greenhouses

As Take Me Home's customers [Thai retailers] are more and more demanding a stable supply of high quality produce, the group has decided to increase their own production in the coming years. "Our two hectares are divided over 10 smaller greenhouses," said Ruiter. "We are now in the middle of the construction of new greenhouses that are supplied by Luuk Runia's Asian Perlite Industries. They have designed a special greenhouse structure that is preferred in tropical climates, which is a very welcome addition when you grow in Chiang Mai."

Picture of the new greenhouse structures. The structures are supplied by Asian Perlite - Greenhouse Solutions Asia from Malaysia:

The new growing operations of Keppel and Ruiter include many technique that are not often seen in Thai horticulture; drip irrigation, hydroponic substrates and automated controls. All of this is not only beneficial to the production of tasty Take Me Home varieties, but they are also vital to the further development of Thai horticulture, as many local farmers get to learn about the techniques when visiting the farms. "This is also one of the key reasons why we came to Thailand and founded our mother company," said Menno Keppel, the Marketing and Sales Director at Take Me Home and Dutch Agro Technology and Trade (D.A.T.T.). "We are not only producers, but we are also supplying agri knowledge and technique to Thai farmers and growers."

Take me Home propagates their own youngplants. Varieties grown are several varieties by De Ruiter Seeds and Nunhems; Elegance, Matthias and Cherubino.


Resume: Thailand is more than a perfect business hub to Southeast Asia

Specially during the Horti ASIA, a lot has been said and written about southeast Asia becoming an important and emerging region for the development of horticulture. At the trade show we learned that a lot of development has been going on in Thailand's surrounding countries like Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam. But speaking to Ruiter and Keppel we have learned that Thailand has more to offer than it's capital Bangkok as a perfect situated business hub: Thailand has got all the potential to house a thriving greenhouse industry. It's only a matter of time, and knowledge, before it deploys itself.

For more information:
D.A.T.T. Co. Ltd.
Thomas Ruiter (e-mail)
Menno Keppel (e-mail)

Jan-Willem Lut (e-mail)