How Holland is redoubling efforts to power fresh produce growth

Dutch produce - supermarket woman

Most Dutch people buy fresh produce in supermarkets but the division from foodservice is blurring

PBUK sourcing spotlight_Holland

Produce Business UK finds out more about the combination of high productivity, efficient supply-chain management, and initiatives to encourage consumption that are fuelling the growth of the Dutch fresh produce industry

Ranking 35th in the list of European countries by land mass, what Holland lacks in size, it makes up for in productivity. This is especially true of the agricultural sector, which as a whole was worth more than €80billion in 2014. The fresh produce sector alone is worth €7bn, and Holland is Europe’s largest producer and exporter of vegetables in Europe and ranks fourth for fruit.

Slick supply chain

According to GroentenFruit Huis, the Netherlands’ fresh produce association, the country’s success as a producer, importer and exporter is due to a well-functioning supply chain. The association’s communications officer Wilma van den Oever adds that it all starts with breeding and offers the example of how seed breeders have introduced new varieties, such as snacking tomatoes, to meet market demands. “They also look at the distribution of new varieties on taste, production and resistance to certain diseases,” comments Van den Oever.

GroentenFruit Huis estimates there are nearly 7,000 growers in Holland, and after supplying the domestic market, the majority of Dutch-grown produce is exported. The port of Rotterdam, which is the largest in Europe, plays a crucial role in the industry, servicing some two hundred brokers, sorting and packing stations. Produce is supplied across Holland by around 350 distributors, and the main points of sale are supermarkets.

Retail-foodservice blurring 

Dutch fresh produce retail association, Agf Retail Netherlands (ADN), claims some 80% of consumers buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. The remaining purchases are made in speciality stores, at markets or in the foodservice channel.

Although the share of greengrocery has declined in recent years, ADN is convinced that speciality retailers can make a difference. ADN asked the consultancy GFK Panel Services to compile a report on how greengrocers can make a difference despite the tough challenges presented by e-commerce, ‘blurring’ and low-and high-end retailing.

The report was positive, especially with the growth of ‘blurring’, which is the trend for retailers to also offer foodservice, such as the Market Hall in Rotterdam, the Jumbo Food Markets in Breda and Amsterdam, and the Deka World of Food in Beverwijk.

Loving local produce

The opportunity to eat lunch or dinner alongside shopping for produce is proving to be very popular, as is the growth of organic and locally grown produce. Henny van de Wetering, a marketer with Valstar Holland, part of the Best Fresh Group, says that locally grown food is a trend that’s gaining traction. 

And it is not just the larger growers that are reaping the rewards of this push for food with fewer miles attached to its distribution. Small producers are seeing opportunities opening up as foodservice outlets try to meet the demand.

Containing Mushrooms is a great example of sustainability meeting local innovation to supply a quality product, in this case oyster mushrooms. Founder Marleen Sijpestijn says she started the business, which operates out of two former sea containers on an allotment in Amsterdam, in April last year. “In Amsterdam there is a demand for the mushrooms as people want local food, they like the taste and I have supplied restaurants before,” she says. “Unfortunately, at the moment I cannot keep up with that demand as the business is just growing. Currently I can produce between five and 10 kilos a week.”

Dutch produce - Containing Mushrooms
Containing Mushrooms is struggling to keep up with demand

Next generation

It is this entrepreneurial spirit that the Dutch Health Council is hoping to foster in the next generation of fresh produce consumers, with projects that include introducing children to growing their own vegetables. The aim is not just to raise awareness of the industry among young people, but also to get them to change their eating habits to increase their chances of a healthy diet. 

Dutch produce - kids' promo

The Dutch Health Council claims that the people of the Netherlands eat an average of 127g of vegetables per person a day. The recommended daily amount is 250g. The council’s youth education programme, FETfit, is an example of the collaboration between industry, government and healthcare to boost consumption. Marielle van den Berg, PR and Communications at the tomato co-operative Prominent, which is part of the initiative, says it is not just the government and the produce industry that is pushing for change. “We find it important to work with professionals, such as the Public Health Service, the nutrition centre or dieticians. We can support each other and promote each other's vision,” she says. “This way we can reach a wider audience, and thus make more children aware of healthy eating and exercise.”

Van den Berg adds that advice, such as that of a nutritionist to slice tomatoes onto bread as a snack, gave parents quick tips to increase produce in their children’s diet. She adds: “If you do that, you have already eaten almost 2oz of vegetables. Over 600 children [have] already visited the tomato grower Roel de Bakker, a member of Prominent, and hopefully this year many [more] children [will visit].” 

With all this activity taking place across Holland, is there anything the Dutch could learn from the rest of the world’s producers? Van de Wetering from Valstar certainly thinks so. “I think we can learn from other businesses the way they create added value,” he suggests. “The fresh produce business is historically a production based sector, but that’s changing. Creating distinctiveness and building brands, both B-to-B and consumer, is key to service in the near future.”

Holland is the featured nation of The London Produce Show and Conference from June 8-10 at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane. GroentenFruit Huis and Valstar Holland are both exhibitors at the show. Register here.

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