Worldwide, the Netherlands is regarded as an important fresh produce market, a distinguished grower of fresh fruits and vegetables, and a strategic logistical gateway for global producers wishing to access the European market. The nation is also a respected world leader when it comes to innovation. At the heart of this success lies a cooperative spirit that has long characterised and advanced the Dutch fresh produce sector.
On 12-14 November, The Amsterdam Produce Summit 2018 will convene the best and brightest global produce minds in the Netherlands to discuss the industry’s next trends. In recognition of this global gathering, Produce Business UK spoke with the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to learn how the government is encouraging further collaboration within the Dutch supply chain when it comes to Brexit, sustainability, food waste, and fruit and veg consumption.
One of the Dutch Agriculture Ministry’s key directives on food policy is to promote healthy and sustainable food consumption. As such, the government promotes the consumption of fresh produce through a national action plan for fruit and vegetables.
“We’d like to see an average daily intake of 450 grams (g) of fruit and veg,” says Aldrik Gierveld, the department’s Director for European Agriculture and Fisheries Policies and Food Security. “Whether that includes apples, pears, melons, strawberries, kale, cauliflower, peas or salad; the total, average intake should amount to that level. Currently, we are far off that in the Netherlands; we’re just passing 250g a day.”
Through nationwide school programmes, the Ministry is striving to make young consumers more aware of the importance of fruit and veg in terms of getting the right food into their bodies.
“We are very much aware that more needs to be done,” accepts Gierveld. “We are concerned about the way people feed themselves. They should eat more fruit and veg.
“According to the patterns of food consumption, especially among youngsters, they are still eating too much salt, sugar, and fat. These are all concerns for the government. In the long run, they will impact on the healthiness of our population, in terms of diseases, etc.”
To that end, the Agriculture Ministry provides subsidies to organisations such as The Netherlands Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) — an independent foundation that gives advice on recommended food patterns and diet.
Additionally, thanks to the availability of European Union funding, the Ministry has put in place schemes to subsidise fruit and veg consumption in primary schools.
“We think it’s a very good stimulus for youngsters to have a variety of fruit or veg, like small [snacking] tomatoes, apples or carrots; those which are available during the season,” Gierveld explains.
“This scheme allows us to reach hundreds of thousands of young children aged between 6 and 12, those in primary education. It’s quite effective, especially if you take into account that given their upbringing and social condition, certain children barely see fresh produce. We think there’s a strong case to really help these children to become consumers of fruit and veg.”
More still needs to be done, however, and Gierveld is calling on the supply chain to get involved.
“We need many players to take part to make it all work out,” he notes. “We can’t say what you should do, but, for example, I’m quite happy to say that the retailers are very willing to take up the issue themselves; by communicating it in their magazines, via displays in the shops and other forms of communication they are using to reach the real consumers who shop in their shops.”
Food Waste and Sustainability
When it comes to national fresh fruit and vegetable production, logistics and retailing, the Ministry is eager to help the industry share the responsibility of tackling the challenge of food waste.
“Whatever we can do together with [Dutch] retailers and other partners in the food chain to reduce food waste is an important issue for us,” Gierveld states.
“These are policy lines that we have been pursuing for a long time, but special emphasis has been put on the avoidance of food waste.”
To be successful, Gierveld is urging for joint action among all supply chain players; from producers to processors and retailers.
“We all have to join in to make it work,” he says. “The Ministry is actively talking to various supermarket chains in the Netherlands.
“We are very much trying to not only be the government telling the industry what they should do, but, rather, we like to incentivise and create action among the various players themselves.
“It’s part of a dialogue; we’re not setting rules or dictating what they should do. We believe it’s better that action is taken from the bottom upwards.”
Additionally, the Ministry is advising Dutch greenhouse growers with regards to operating in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
“We are talking with the producers about their responsibility when it comes to improving the sustainability of their greenhouses,” Gierveld reveals.
The strategy falls in line with The Paris Agreement – the global action to combat climate change – which determines that greenhouses that can become a source of energy, instead of a consumer of energy.
“There are further issues [we are discussing at a national level] around sustainability, the use of pesticides, etc.” Gierveld adds.
On the subject of international partnerships, Gierveld insists that the longstanding relationship between the Netherlands and the UK will be maintained, even following Brexit.
“The Netherlands and the UK will remain very close neighbours on the two sides of the North Sea after the UK leaves the EU,” Gierveld tells PBUK. “We will have to build on that. We all have to deal with it.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over what will be agreed between the EU and the UK, Gierveld says the Dutch Agriculture Ministry is doing as much as possible to help agri-businesses in the Netherlands to prepare.
The department is supporting various websites, such as the Brexit Impact Scan, which asks certain questions of Dutch companies to determine how well prepared (or not) they are according to the various Brexit scenarios.
“The Ministry is trying to give companies the tools to consider what they need do,” Gierveld explains. “There are many levels of action that they can take. At a formal level, companies should go to the Chamber of Commerce to get registered as an international trader; as an exporter.
“But, of course, they have to prepare as a company as well. They have to see what the additional requirements could be, and also in terms of time loss if they are going to trade with the UK after the Brexit date.”
The Amsterdam Produce Summit 2018
All of these topics, and more, are likely to be featured in the conversations of those participating at The Amsterdam Produce Summit 2018, where the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture will continue to lend its support to the fresh produce sector.
What’s more, the event presents another opportunity for the produce industry to collaborate, and for Dutch suppliers to promote their stories, according to Gierveld.
“Dutch producers have a good reputation in the [produce] market, but it’s always good to underscore and underline once more why that is so, and why we add value and why we are able to deliver just in time with the right produce according to the specifications that the various organisations in the chain are asking for,” he explains.
“Secondly, I think it’s very important for those in the trade to know what the latest developments are in the market, and it’s very good to have a venue in the Netherlands to talk about international and European developments,” he adds.
“It’s good to keep in touch with one another about where we are, and what’s coming up. Hopefully, all of that will lead to more business ... more contacts and more contact.”
The ‘new-look’ Agriculture Ministry
Beyond these topics, the newly formed Dutch Agriculture Ministry expects to realise additional agri-business ambitions in the near future.
Up until a year ago, the department operated as part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. But following the formation of the four-party coalition government in the Netherlands on 26 October 2017, the Agriculture Ministry became a standalone entity, headed by Carola Schouten, who is also the country’s Third Deputy Prime Minister.
“Our Minister is an influential lady,” remarks Gierveld. “She’s the most popular Minister after a year in office, according to the latest opinion polls [on 25 October 2018]. More importantly, she recently presented her new vision, which stipulates the transition to circular agriculture [an industry that produces no waste or pollution]. We believe that this is the only way to secure the future of our food supplies.
“There is a lot of ambition within the Ministry that we’ll be trying to implement in the next year , together with primary producers, suppliers and distributors.”
The Dutch fresh produce industry In association with the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is sponsoring The Amsterdam Produce Summit 2018’s Cocktail Reception, which will be held on Tuesday 13 November. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org