"If you have to divide your heart between your own company and the cooperative, how does that work out? I posed this question five years ago, just after the establishment of Harvest House. 95 percent of their heart was in their business, the remainder in the cooperative. Many claim that these figures are grossly exaggerated, but since then we include this question every year in our member research. That ratio has now become fifty-fifty, which illustrates that our members are very involved at Harvest House and that they are committed."
Jelte van Kammen has been the face of Harvest House since the beginning of the growers' association in 2013. The cooperative has had a clear direction from day one, Van Kammen emphasizes. "In the first place, we stand for clarity and transparency, which means that members can see exactly what price their colleagues get, what is rejected and which growers are allowed to deliver to which market. Because of this openness, everyone knows what is going on and this prevents mistrust, which can be divisive for a cooperative."
All or nothing
Another solid pillar of Harvest House is that members are required to sell all of their products through the growers' association. Perfectly logical, Van Kammen says. "Every month we sit together with our growers' groups. Openness is crucial during these meetings, so it's not possible that you say one thing and then do another by competing with each other. That's why it's all or nothing."
The commercial model of Harvest House has four key elements. First of all, growers supply all their products to the cooperative. Subsequently, the cooperative can sell to its own companies (see box), but also to other parties. "This keeps pricing competitive."
The trading companies can also purchase products from other growers. "This way we ensure entrepreneurship in these companies, and members and employees are kept sharp. Finally, a product never goes to the next link in the chain without a price attached to it. We want to be in control. "
What makes Harvest House unique, according to Van Kammen, is the fact that the cooperative wants to be more than just a supplier. "Offering added value for our customers is the starting point, so we think along with customers about trends, concepts, the layout of the shelf, etc. We also invest in supply chain management and advise the customer on chain optimization. We want to be a partner for our customers, really working together."
Active participation required
For Van Kammen it's the members that are the distinguishing aspect of Harvest House. "The companies have an above-average production area, plus our members are also enterprising and progressive, as demonstrated by the fact that many members work together. For example, four tomato growers founded the GreenPack packing station and all bell pepper growers have joined forces in one packing station this year. Others work together in the field of energy, labor and seed distribution. Such initiatives provide added value for the individual member's businesses and strengthen their market position."
Van Kammen emphasizes that these joint ventures are not initiated by Harvest House, but that the growers' association plays a facilitating role. "We bring growers together, but the entrepreneurs themselves have to take the step to cooperate and also to support it. The time when a sales organization told the growers what was good for them is over. At the same time we also expect an active attitude from our members and want them to join in. If you take a passive stance in Harvest House, you will miss out on many opportunties.
Focusing on added value
How does Van Kammen see the future of Harvest House? What challenges will the cooperative and its members face in 2026? Offering added value is one of the 'key issues' according to the director. "The food culture is changing worldwide, people are eating more often in one day and are consuming more and more processed products. As horticulturists we have been too passive, like when the retail sector gained ground in the nineties. In the past thirty years we have stayed limited to the role of raw material supplier. In order to remain competitive and to survive, we will need to offer more added value."
Harvest House has been laying the groundwork for this in recent years. For example, through the establishment of Food Fellows, a company focused on the development and sale of processed greenhouse vegetable products. "With Tomatoblend, we have taken a first step in the development of processed products from residual streams, and through Snijpunt, which we recently took over, we also want to accelerate when it comes to processed bell pepper products."
According to Van Kammen, this course is necessary to maintain profitability in the future and to keep an important role in the chain. "In 2026 the product price will still be important for our growers, but hopefully the amount of added value that we offer will be doubled."
'Cooperation increases margins'
Cooperation is an important success factor for entrepreneurs towards the future, says Van Kammen. "There are so many challenges facing an entrepreneur today, as a grower it's not possible to deal with everything alone. Things like big data and challenges in the field of energy, but also the need to offer added value in the market."
Particularly for fruit vegetable companies with an area of between 5 and 15 hectares, Van Kammen believes that cooperation is crucial. "They have to consider how they want to go further and how they want to secure their future. Cooperation will in most cases be the solution to realize a certain scale, or to be able to distinguish yourself and create added value in the market."
Individuals determine the success of cooperation
The main challenge with entering into these collaborations is on the psychological level, Van Kammen says. "The classic grower, with green fingers and working happily among his plants, will disappear in the long term. The trick is to connect with a colleague who has business savvy. But for many growers it is difficult to let things go, and in many cases this is also a process of soul searching: it requires self-reflection and insight into your own strengths and weaknesses, you have to dare to be vulnerable. Only then will you discover the type of partner that will be a good fit for you and you will benefit from the collaboration."
According to Van Kammen, the most important thing is that entrepreneurs do what makes them happy. "Because no matter how you look at it, if you don't get energy from your work, you're not going to keep it up in the long run."
Van Kammen himself hopes to be at the helm at Harvest House in 2026. "I am a real grower and I am happy to build organizations and help people grow. I also like to give direction, to set sign posts to the future and to bring everyone along. Harvest House still offers me plenty of challenges, also towards 2026."
Originated from: FrEsteem, PaprikaXL and Rainbow Growers
Number of members: 60 production locations in the Netherlands and abroad (including in China, Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco, UK, Mexico and the United States).
Number of hectares: 915
Products: Tomato (47%), bell pepper (50%), cucumber (3%)
Sales organizations: Terra Natura International (a trading company with a focus on fruit vegetables and European retail), Rainbow International (full-service supplier of fruit and vegetables, for both food service and day trade) and Global Green Team (focusing on trade in vegetables and fruit with countries outside of Europe).
Vegetable processing companies: Food Fellows (design, production and marketing of processed products), Snijpunt (convenience - specialist in the processing of bell peppers to semi-finished products) and Green Blend (tomato sauces).
Coalitie HOT: Harvest House has been a member of the Federatie VruchtgroenteOrganisaties since 2015, one of the partners in Coalitie HOT.