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"Spreading risks with the cultivation of peppers, algae and blackberries"Risk spreading and internationalization will be the driving force behind Wouter van den Bosch and his father Jaco for the coming years. The entrepreneurs want to make their business future-proof by not only focusing on the pepper cultivation, but also on the cultivation of algae and blackberries. In addition, there is the ambition to continue to grow internationally. "To be able to stay in business, you have to place a dot on the horizon and work towards it."
The plans, motives and ambitions of young entrepreneur Wouter van den Bosch:
- Be of value to the company
- Critical vision with the aim of optimizing business processes
- Development of a clear vision for the future
- Creating risk spreading: going for the cultivation of peppers, algae and blackberries
- International focus
- Using opportunities of cooperation
- Making entrepreneurs 'dispensable'
Wouter van den Bosch (26) from Bleiswijk knew as a child that his future was in horticulture. Preferably as an entrepreneur with his parent’s pepper farm. "I think horticulture is a wonderful world. What is more beautiful than the production of food?", Wouter emphasizes. Nevertheless, after his studies in Agricultural Business in Delft and a Master's in Strategic Management at the Erasmus University, he did not immediately join his parents’ company. "I felt that there had to be a need from the company for me to join, I wanted to be of value for the company. And a cultivation area of 5.5 hectares of green peppers is too small to manage with the two of us. That’s why I started working as a cultivation advisor at GreenQ, which in the meantime has become Delphy."
Two years ago, space became available within the partnership Van den Bosch & Paauw: Wouter joined the company to further expand the algae cultivation. "We started with this a few years earlier to develop the company further. We saw potential in this cultivation because algae contain a high concentration of Astaxanthin. This valuable antioxidant is often used in the United States in food supplements and cosmetic products. This offered opportunities for the European market. Gradually it became clear that in order to attain these opportunities, we needed to put more time and energy into this project. There was a role for me. And so I joined the partnership."
Strategy for the future
Meanwhile, Wouter has left his mark on the company in various areas. "I try to look critically at every aspect of the company, to shake things up, as it were," he says. "The aim here is to place the responsibilities low in the organization with the people who are closest to it. This year I have concentrated on the pepper cultivation, now the labor registration and the consultation structure are on the agenda. On this level there are still opportunities for improvement, by critically reviewing the business, we can increase the efficiency.
Wouter also helped to shape the future strategy of the company. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that change is needed to make the pepper nursery future-proof. "With five hectares of peppers, we will not be able to make it in the long term. In order to create a future for the company, something has to be done. In recent years I have done my best to bring vision and ambition to the company. By discussing with my father and to look where our qualities lie, we have developed a strategy to make our company 'future proof'."
The entrepreneurs see two major future opportunities for their business: to tap into new sectors of industry and internationalization. "In fact, as a grower, you have four possible directions: scaling-up, focusing on marketing, specialization and internationalization", says Wouter. "All these options have been reviewed. We immediately rejected scaling-up: this requires too much external capital, while you are going along in a negative price spiral; a race to the bottom with limited extra returns. And distinguishing yourself by marketing is fun, but can we really become good at this and can we succeed in putting a product in the market in a distinctive way? We were not sure of that. We came to the conclusion that our strength and interests lie in the cultivation of a good product for a niche market and in the optimization of processes. We would like to do something different than the large mass. The expansion of our product portfolio - in order to create a spreading of risk - in combination with an internationalization step towards the future, we feel, suits us best."
The first step in creating more risk spreading was already taken several years ago, with the start of the 'algae experiment'. However, this isn’t going as we had hoped at the moment, Wouter indicates. "It turns out to be particularly difficult to find customers for the algae. And that is really necessary to be able to invest in a cultivation installation for algae cultivation; so in that respect it is a chicken-and-egg story. There certainly is a potential, but the European market does not seem to be ready yet for the sale of home-grown algae. This requires time and perseverance, and you also need to build up a network."
In addition to algae cultivation, the entrepreneurs also opt for a different direction: at the beginning of this year, a 1.3-hectare greenhouse was purchased for the cultivation of blackberries. "The cultivation of soft fruit is 'booming', but not many blackberries are cultivated in our country. Hence our choice to get started and in this way create more risk spreading. Before my father started with green peppers he cultivated eggplants for twenty years; at that time that also was revolutionary. This trend we’ll continue; we look for products that enable us to distinguish ourselves. Furthermore, we also just will continue to cultivate green peppers. This is still the basis for our company, financially as well."
Across the border
The entrepreneurs also have the ambition to realize a production location for peppers abroad. Where, what and how is not yet clear at this moment. "It is a fact that the European vegetable market is more than saturated. In countries such as North America, China and Japan, the market still offers more opportunities. And by producing here, you can also benefit from the local-for-local trend and save on transport costs. In short: a win-win situation", says Wouter, who also sees an important role for himself in foreign growth. He, along with other young entrepreneurs, are doing a two-year program to get acquainted with the many facets of internationalization. The Van den Bosch family is keen to enter into this 'adventure' with local partners. "After all, they know the area and have the contacts. Something like this you cannot do alone."
Wouter sees the importance of cooperation and does not exclude cooperation with other companies in the future. Especially when relevant knowledge and experience can be added to the company in this way and this will contribute to the realization of future plans. "When such an opportunity comes along, you have to grab it," says Wouter. "Of course this will be difficult in an emotional sense, because we have done it alone for five generations. But that is of minor importance when working together can help your company to proceed. I know that my father is thinking along the same lines. In that respect, the willingness to cooperate has nothing to do with age."
The choice for the outlined long-term strategy also implies that father and son Van den Bosch are active in many different areas. Wouter recognizes that this poses a challenge. "For example, the soft fruit sector cannot be compared to the greenhouse horticulture sector directed at fruit vegetables. There are many companies with multiple crops and their own plant propagation, in addition sales are still mostly done through the auctions." Our peppers are sold through the Harvest House growers' association, the blackberries we are going to sell later through the Fruitmasters auction and with the algae, we will arrange the sales in-house for now."
In order to streamline all these issues and to keep them under control, matters will be addressed one by one, Wouter emphasizes. "Pepper cultivation runs like a well-oiled machine and the experiment with the algae is going well too. Now, the challenge is to get the blackberry cultivation up and running. This is the focus for the coming period. A big advantage as a result is that my father and I run the business together, and in addition we have highly motivated employees who can and want to manage a lot of responsibilities. This is giving us the time and space to get new things started."
The ultimate goal of the entrepreneurs is that all branches of industry can run independently and that they themselves are dispensable. "We hope to be that far in 2026. Condition of course is that we can also find good people who can do without us. We are already looking for that, but it's not easy to find them. Anyway, we try to be a good employer and to give our people a lot of freedom and responsibilities. And when people want to take more responsibility, we let them also benefit by means of performance rewards or other extras. And also if someone would like to work up to be a shareholder, we are certainly open for that. When you have good and passionate people and want to keep them, it is only logical to give them a slice of the pie too."
Despite all plans and ambitions, Wouter finds it difficult to say where his company, and also he himself, will be in 2026. "We have to wait and see if everything works out the way we envisage. You have to take into account that things go differently or fail, which is also a reason to go for multiple opportunities. I hope that in ten years' time we still cultivate peppers and blackberries, that we are a step further with the algae and are also active abroad. And perhaps we are already working on the next step."
Need for change
Finally: what message does Wouter want to give to fellow entrepreneurs in horticulture? "Make sure you have a vision for the future," the entrepreneur states firmly. "The fact is that it has to be done differently in horticulture in order to be able to keep the company in the future." It strikes me that many entrepreneurs do not see this need yet. "But if you continue in the current direction, then ultimately you will not make it with your greenhouse of a few hectares. Your competitive advantage evaporates because everything around you changes and improves. So be self-critical, think about your shortcomings and qualities and where you want to be with your company in twenty years time. And how to get there. It is important to look at things rationally and to put emotions aside as much as possible. In short: make plans and do so in a sustainable way. By sustainable I do not only mean respectfully dealing with your environment, so that you can continue to do what you are doing now. Sustainable working also means creating a future perspective for your company, ensuring that it remains competitive and up to date. It does not matter if you adjust this future vision once in a while, as long as you’re working on it. In this way you prevent yourself from waking up in ten years and coming to the conclusion that you hit a dead end."
Onderneming2026.nl is an initiative of Coalition HOT. Coalition HOT is formed by Federatie VruchtgroenteOrganisaties, Royal FloraHolland, Rabobank, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Province of South Holland, Province of North Holland and the municipality of Westland.
Publication date: 12/6/2017
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