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Current Position:Home » News » General News » Topic

Residue-free and extreme weather are challenges of the future

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2017-07-20  Views: 2
Core Tip: What started as a cultivation company from West-Flanders has grown into a European player in fresh vegetables.
What started as a cultivation company from West-Flanders has grown into a European player in fresh vegetables. Verduyn can call itself a market leader in the field of carrots, with a production of 120,000 tonnes per year. The biggest challenges for the company are the ever stricter requirements from supermarkets and the more extreme weather situations.

The history of the family company goes back to 1965, when Gaston Verduyn started growing vegetables under glass and in open fields in Kortemark, Belgium. They soon started manually cutting the vegetables. Processing became serious after investments were made in vegetable cutting machines, and when the first contracts with vegetable growers from the area were closed. By now, the family company is in the hands of the third Verduyn generation, and over the years, it has developed into an international player in the world of vegetables for industry, the fresh market and food service.

“Everyone needing fresh vegetables can come to us,” says Alexander Verduyn. He literally grew up among the vegetables and the machines of the parental company, and has been CEO of the Verduyn group since 2016. With his brother Nicolas and his sister Valerie, he will take over leadership from his parents in future. The company is divided into four departments: Industry, Fresh Market, Food Service and Agriculture. Because of this, it has a large part of the supply chain in its own hands. Verduyn also has its own branches in France and Spain. The industry vegetables play a dual role for the family company. Part of the industry vegetables are processed into semifinished products for delivery to frozen and tinned manufacturers in particular. Verduyn also sells the industry vegetables to companies that don’t have enough of these vegetables in their own range, if at all.

Specialised in baby carrots
The family company grows and processes various types of fresh vegetables, but has specialised in carrots. “Especially baby carrots are an important domain. The Verduyn group’s roots are in that. We are a European market leader in growing and processing this type of carrot.” The baby carrots and other carrots can be washed, sorted and sliced for various purposes. Other major products are celeriac, cabbage, broccoli and leek. Alexander says forgotten vegetables have become popular in recent years, which can be seen throughout the entire supply chain. The organic vegetables have also made their entry. For practically all vegetables, Verduyn also has an organic variant available, which are increasingly in demand, according to Alexander.

The Agriculture department is the sourcing service for the vegetables. For purchasing the industry vegetables, contracts are entered into with growers and grower’s associations beforehand. Verduyn works closely with hundreds of vegetable growers, both domestically and abroad. “Only three to five per cent is bought on the free market. For the industry, everything is actually programmed in advance, both the purchasing and the sales side of it.” Alexander mentions that the industry vegetable cultivation is fairly stable. Although minor fluctuations can be noticed, he doesn’t see any major shifts. “The building plans for the new year are generally based on the market situation of the previous year. There are products that fluctuate more than others, such as scorzonera. One year it’ll be in much demand and it will be planted in abundance, and that’ll lead to a surplus a few years later. The weather also has effect on that.”

Own cultivation
The products come from various cultivation areas in Europe. The vegetable company has a specific cultivation area in Belgium, the Netherlands or France for practically each product. “West-Flanders, for example, is Europe’s leek area. The circumstances for growing these vegetables are best here. The cultivation areas for the fresh market and industry can differ. Besides a high level of product certainty, it also provides us with the best possible quality.” Contracts with the farmers are entered into by the agricultural department. The advisors subsequently support them with cultivation guidance. Part of the products is own production. In 2013, the company’s own production company Agricolas was founded, which grew into a prominent producer of carrots, cabbages, leek and broccoli, among other products, in just a few years. The area currently amounts to about 350 hectares. All products are grown to be commercialised by Verduyn. “That is the cultivation we come from, and we want to keep in touch with it. Everything starts at the source,” Alexander says. “Moreover, it gives us a good insight into what’s playing for growers regarding cost prices, pesticides, et cetera.”

Verduyn processes part of the vegetables into semifinished products. The sliced product is then delivered to producers for further processing for the frozen and tinned markets, among other markets. These are mostly the vegetables that are more difficult to process, such as carrots sliced in various manners, blanched celery parts, parsnips, white and red cabbage and celeriac. These are offered in various types of packaging, from big bags to small packaging as the customer desires. Quick service and food safety are especially important in food service. “Our agricultural department ensures a watertight system regarding soil analyses, fertiliser, pesticides, traceability, and so on, to guarantee our customers a food safe product.”

Residue-free and climate
Annually, the group markets about 150,000 tonnes of vegetables. Verduyn exports both for the fresh market and the processing industry to about 20 different countries. “In Belgium, we supply to practically all frozen producers. These are proper world players, of which the products are shipped all over the world. Seasons are short in industry. After harvesting, the vegetables have to be processed as quickly as possible, which requires an enormous reactivity. In part thanks to our size we can respond to and serve our customers quickly.” Although Alexander faces the future confidently, he can definitely mention some challenges. The strict supermarket requirements, that are only getting stricter, could become an obstacle, according to him. “Requirements are different everywhere. This needs stricter spraying schedules, and an even better planning when deciding which vegetables will be meant for which sales markets. This is something we have to continue working on in coming years. In future, the cultivation will perhaps go towards residue-free even more, making the differences between conventional and organic even smaller. That’s quite tricky, because there’s still a significant price difference between conventional and organic.”

Additionally, he sees the changing weather as a possible threat for growing vegetables. The climate, which is becoming ever more extreme, leaves its mark more and more. “In an extremely dry year we have to grow in an area in which irrigation is a possibility, but in very wet circumstances there’s not much to be done. Rising temperatures are not always favourable for the quality of our products either. All in all, these are threats that we have to bear in mind. On the other hand, it requires even more flexibility, and our customers expect us to be able to supply a custom-made solution in any situation that might arise.”

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