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"Johan Vanhaeren: "Organic cannot be compared with conventional"

BioVibe, already 30+ growers

Belgian firm BioVibe, a wholesaler in organic fruit and vegetables, has been in existence since July this year. BioVibe was founded by André Vanhaeren. Together with his three sons, Johan, Erwin and Ive, he's been growing organic vegetables on an acreage of 45 hectares in Limburg, for around 40 years now. Before, they sold the produce through Veiling BelOrta, but this year they decided to organize the sales themselves. Now, nearly 40 growers are already officially associated with BioVibe, but in total, 60 growers supply their produce or part of their produce to the company. Every week, new growers are choosing to have their fresh produce marketed through BioVibe.

Growers are always welcome
Johan Vanhaeren says that the building in Sint-Katelijne-Waver is an ideal location which had been empty for some time prior to this. The reason why growers choose BioVibe as a sales channel, mirrrors their own reasons, he says. "Through the auction, the products weren't always sold, because organic had only a small share there, and conventional took precedence. We're also flexible with delivery times. Growers are welcome to bring their produce here 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. Our suppliers are very pleased with BioVibe, describing us as flexible and accessible, with a good atmosphere. They're also free to deliver their produce. There are no commitments. There isn't any infighting either. There's a lot of cooperation, without any begrudgery."

Wide range

BioVibe clients are mainly Belgian supermarkets, but also wholesalers in Belgium and the Netherlands. "We supply a wide range of organic potatoes, vegetables and fruit. Our main products in the winter season are carrots, leek and cabbage. In the summer, we mainly do greenhouse vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. When it comes to fruit, we offer a lot of apples, pears and strawberries."

Not comparable

According to him, organic cannot always be compared with conventional. "The problem is that some in the trade do compare it, and demand the same look. That's almost impossible. Nature doesn't always cater to your whims, especially when you don't use pesticides. Organic fresh produce has been looking a lot better in recent years, but with certain products you can't reach the same levels. Our leeks, for instance, can't ever be as heavy as conventional leeks. Organic apples, on the other hand, often also look beautiful." But price-wise, organic and conventional cannot be compared. "Prices differ quite a lot, but organic is of course more labour-intensive, and the costs are much higher. With conventional leek, 65 tonnes per hectare is an average harvest, for us, 25 tonnes per hectare is a good result. Now, for instance, you pay around 20 cents for conventional leek, and a Euro more for an organic one. In addition, organic prices are more stable, almost level year-round. That means it's sometimes even cheaper than conventional." Generally speaking, Johan thinks conventional prices are too low. "Not enough is being paid. If the price of conventional would go up, it would benefit the whole sector."

The BioVibe team in front of the building: Bernard, Ive, AndrĂ©, Rony, Johan and Erwin

At the moment, BioVibe only supplies Belgian fresh produce. "It's possible that we'll import more in the future. We see an increasing demand for year-round supplies in certain products, so it's something we're considering." He expects BioVibe to grow even further. "Organic products are flavourful, tasty, environmentally friendly and healthy, and there's an established market for it. We took the big step to sell it ourselves, and I think many growers in Belgium know it by now, because requests are pouring in. We're still short on certain products, actually. So it's good that supplies are growing."

For more information:
BioVibe BVBA
Kempenarestraat 44a
2860 Sint-Katelijne -Waver
Tel: 0032(0) 15 32 07 42
Fax : 0032(0) 15 31 23 09
[email protected]
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