During the tomato crisis of 1996, which was characterised by extremely low prices, Erik de Winter invested in a packing line. The grower wanted to add value to his products this way. More than twenty years later, the company has grown from a production company into a commercial enterprise and packing station, and Rotom Tomatoes now has a logistical branch.
“My father started growing lettuce in 1985, and tomatoes were added later,” Tom de Winter says about the start of the company. Nowadays, the company has three production locations in the Sint-Katelijne-Waver region in Belgium. Within the built-up area of the Belgian city, one hectare of greenhouses can be found. Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver, part of Sint-Katelijne-Waver, has a greenhouse complex of 5.4 hectares, of which 1.4 hectares is illuminated production. “We have plans to expand by five hectares,” Tom says. In Lier, slightly to the north, another location can be found. That area now amounts to 7.5 hectares, as they recently purchased another hectare, although the expansion has been delayed somewhat.
Tom de Winter.
The illuminated production continues to grow in the Netherlands and Belgium, so that there’s more competition for supply from Spain. Tom hopes this trend will continue in coming years. “We could then be able to supply Belgian tomatoes year-round, and be competitive compared to the south.” He isn’t afraid of overproduction. “It’s a bit of a risk, but I see plenty of opportunities on our markets. Besides, consumers are becoming ever more critical.” Snack tomatoes in particular have seen their market share increasing. “We’ve recently seen more demand for larger packaging for our tomatoes.” About eight years ago, people started with 250-gramme packaging, but packaging of one kilogram have now become popular.
“We are members of BelOrta, but our tomatoes aren’t sold at their auction,” Tom explains. Because of that, the commercial enterprise can decide their own prices for the red vegetables. Besides, a number of growers work for Rotom Tomatoes via the auction. These prices are determined by the auction, or by permanent weekly or annual contracts. About sixty per cent of the tomatoes is exported. The most important export markets can be found on the European mainland. “Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Poland, Germany and Lithuania are the largest markets,” Tom sums up. The domestic market buys forty per cent of the tomatoes.
New construction at Veiling Zuid
“The trend we started 15 years ago with our own production, a packing station and our own transport is becoming ever more important,” Tom says. “Because of that, we can determine our own prices. Additionally, retailers want to know where their products come from more often.” Tom recognises it’s a difficult market. “You have to supply quality and service, and you have to be flexible, we try to make a difference in that.”
In recent years, the commercial enterprise has clearly become the largest. “We try to regain some balance in that,” Tom says. The imminent expansions in the greenhouses, among other things, should contribute to that. In the first quarter of 2019, the new company building at the Veiling Zuid site, adjacent to the current trade centre in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, should be finished. With the various packing lines and four new labeling machines, the old location at the edge of the trade centre has become too small. “We mostly pack in flow-pack, because we can be more flexible with top seal that way,” Tom concludes. “Demand for ecological and cardboard packaging is increasing more and more.”
Tom de Winter