"Mexico provides room for expansion of the greenhouse acreage", said Woltman. The general manager of FreshMex stressed that there are possibilities, but that producers should produce more efficiently and in line with qualities demanded by the market in order to become and stay profitable. "By making the right agreements and partnerships with customers you are able to achieve good results and market a top quality product at a decent price. Our philosophy is aimed at creating sustainable supply chains, in which growers and customers are linked as much as possible, in an open and transparent partnership."
FreshMexFreshMex is owned by the Dutch Levarht group and is the only grower in Mexico that is growing bell peppers in a glass greenhouse. They have 7.5 hectares of Venlo greenhouse in which they grow red, yellow and orange bell peppers. As well as this they sort, pack, trade and ship the harvest of an additional multitude of hectares from external Mexican contract growers, which are marketed by Levarht. Currently we now also handle the export of various other Mexican produce to the USA or elsewhere in the world through Levarht.
The local growers are all guided by FreshMex consultants to optimize their production and quality. "We try to control a large part of the chain in order to be as efficient as possible", Woltman said. "From buying the seeds and supplies, facilitating and consulting the propagation and assisting during the journey to finding the right clients, partners and direct buyers of the produce¨. Levarht and FreshMex aim to have the entire process under control, from the producer to the retailer, together with our business partners, in one vertically integrated organization with the same culture and approach to the market, its people and products. Crucial in the success this is our partnership with growers. That also implies full transparency."
Dutch ambassador in Mexico Dolf Hogewoning, state secretary Sharon Dijksma and pepper grower Oscar Woltman of FreshMex during the visit of the delegation in March this year. Picture by @LANMexico
Having the chain under control is one thing, but what differentiates FreshMex from many other Mexican greenhouse operations is the efficiency of the business, the quality of the product and the way-to-market. You can easily say that automation is part of the company culture. They are a Mexican company with Mexican personnel and Mexican head growers. But the company´s philosophy is influenced by Levarht and is Dutch; they try to work as efficiently as possible, produce according to market demand and manage the operation the Dutch way and even automatize a large part of the business.
But not everything can be done the same as in Holland. Woltman explained that for example the greenhouse cultivation in Mexico is a league of its own. "We are growing in a different climate in Mexico which we had to adapt to. There is an abundance of light which sometimes is too much. And then there is the harsh climate; in the morning for example, the temperature can increase by 15 degrees Celsius in a very short time. That is something that we needed to adapt to and sometimes makes it more challenging to grow, especially in the beginning."
Learning curveAfter growing bell peppers in the Agropark now for 8 years, Woltman is looking back at a successful period with a learning curve. Nowadays FreshMex runs efficiently, with a strong focus on the optimum quality and highest possible service level. "We had to discover a lot, because we were the first and still are the only pepper growers with a glass greenhouse, there was nobody to ask how we should do it. The last six years we have achieved a very stable and satisfying production.
Woltman said that he does not think that a production similar to a Dutch or Canadian greenhouse can be achieved in Mexico. "Here you start the season in the summer months, when there is a lot of light and temperature, while the light levels decrease towards the winter months and then increases again from mid-February to the end of the production season. This is against the natural habit of a plant; normally you start in the darker months, and the plant is fully grown come the summer. You are growing against the cycle of a plant, so you cannot really compare the production with Dutch or Canadian crop, nevertheless the quality is great."
But what can be compared to the Dutch standards are the automation and the labour management at FreshMex; labour activities are registered precisely allowing us to measure productivity and thus rewarding the employees according to their performance. As well as this, the picking speed of the harvesters is high because it is automated with trolleys. Woltman: "It is our company culture to work as efficient as possible. We like to reward our workers if they perform better. We prefer to work with 8 happy workers because they are rewarded if they work harder, than to work with 12 workers that work slowly and are unsatisfied with their earnings."
The futureLooking towards the future, Woltman believes that both efficiency and quality will play a crucial factor in the success of producing in Mexico and the marketing of Mexican produce. Not only in terms of labour and company strategy, but also in terms of sustainable production and partnerships throughout the whole supply chain. "There might be a place for CHP or geothermal energy in the Mexican greenhouse industry, who knows what the future brings."