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ZON supplies snack tomatoes all year round thanks to Moroccan cultivation

Westburg nursery grows snack tomatoes in Morocco

The first snack tomatoes from the new Westburg nursery cultivation location have arrived. Since the start of this year the company has been growing on 25 hectares in northern Morocco. Grower Bas van Leeuwen says: "Now we wholly guarantee where our product comes from."

"We want to control the entire chain. The quality, the checks, the taste - we want to be able to be transparent about it. Now we know exactly where the product comes from and what has been done to it," says snack tomato grower Bas van Leeuwen. He runs Westburgh nursery (19 ha) with his brother Ton. The company has been importing snack tomatoes in the winter for a few years. The sales doubled annually - but there were also drawbacks. "Our product has to meet strict demands and with import you never know exactly what has happened to the product. We wanted to check every pallet, just to be sure. You also only have so much influence on the choice of variety and cultivation method." Lit cultivation is not a viable option for snack tomatoes and this is why we opted for a cultivation location abroad. 

Corne van Winsen (ZON fruit & vegetables) and Bas van Leeuwen (Westburg nursery)

After research was conducted in Turkey and Spain, Morocco was chosen due to the available space, the logistical facilities, the cultivation climate and the future possibilities. Westburg became a partner in an existing project in the region of Berkane, known for its citrus production. Work is conducted in 25 hectare plastic greenhouses and there is space for further extension.

In collaboration with the Spanish entrepreneur yellow, red and orange snack tomatoes are grown, amongst other things. This week the first supply arrived and Van Leeuwen is more than satisfied. "Taste, quality, size, all good. And the residues are far under the stricter supermarket MRL standards. Exactly how we like it."

The tomatoes are packaged in one of the five packaging lines at the Limburg cultivation company.

Having the market
An area of 25 hectares may sound like a lot for a company that only works on 19 hectares in the Netherlands. Is there demand for that much product? "The yields aren't comparable to those in the Netherlands. Export worthy production is grown on 1/3 here," says Van Leeuwen. "But there are customers. Particularly in the snack segment you need buyers before you start something like that." Corné van Winsen of ZON fruit&vegetables adds: "Since the import has started we have seen the demand for snack products in the winter grow. Now we are serving our customers with taste and quality grown under our control all year round. And the snack tomatoes can be exported to Russia, as they are of Moroccan origin. This wasn't our focus market when we picked this location in June, but with the additional paperwork we can supply Russia."

Greenhouses in Morocco

But working in Morocco can't be compared to cultivation in the Netherlands. Even the language (French and Arabic) but also the culture and laws are challenges. The plants in the plastic greenhouses are also home grown.

Westburg doesn't work with advice bureaus, but has a Dutch-Moroccan nursery employee, to organise the day to day business. One of the brothers also visits every three weeks. "Other than this we work with locals."

Overnight boat
The production from the Moroccan location goes to Almeria by the overnight boat and then follows the same route as Spanish produce - but with extra points of attention.

Van Leeuwen says: "Conditioned transport, not mixed with other produce. We drive with two drivers to shorten the transport time. By communicating during the journey we know exactly when a truck will arrive and can process it immediately. Thanks to all of this we can harvest a riper product and this benefits the taste and colour."
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