Last week Vortus Greenhouse Consultants celebrated its 35th anniversary. The Dutch horticulture advisory company has seen an impressive growth over the last decades. Reason to look back at the company's history and obtain a sneak peek of the future.
According to Barend Lobker, managing director of Vortus Greenhouse Consultants, a consultancy group is an unusual company, "We do not sell anything tangible and even after 35 years, our work remains invisible. Therefore I believe we are an unusual business."
The company was founded by Henk Koot and Simon Voogt, two former consultants that previously worked for Brinkman. "The combination of providing consultancy and selling products did not appeal us." Reason for them to start their own business in 1982.
Thanks to their knowledge of water and automation and the good relationships with researchers, the company dared to develop and advise progressive cultivation strategies that comprised irrigation, the control of crop growth through the climate and the introduction of the early night.
This knowledge has now become commonplace, but that independent advice still has great value is shown by the Vortus team, which nowadays consists of seven permanent consultants and two loyal partners. What has changed, according to Henk, is the attitude of growers.
"In 1965 mutual knowledge sharing was much more common. When I stopped in 2008, this was already changing. If we hit on something good, sometimes the growers told us that we should not discuss it with others. This was a difficult issue for me." He emphasizes the importance of such mutual sharing of knowledge. "Only then can you survive as a group."
Also Barend Lobker has seen the sector change with internationalization and expansion. "From family companies where neighbors visited each other, into large institutions with managers and company directors." Also other matters are becoming important: from cultivation to marketing and organization.
Marketing and the future
Maarten van der Leede, chain manager at Rijk Zwaan , was invited to give a presentation about marketing its importance in the future. "I do not have a crystal ball, but at Rijk Zwaan we expect that the connection between market and the consumer is becoming more important. I dare to say that there is only a future for growers who know exactly for which end customer they are cultivating." As a breeder, Rijk Zwaan is obviously busy with that. This year, the company opened the retail center in Berlin, to gather more information about the chain. But there are more trends that have a lot of influence on the fresh produce sector.
Developments like the changing food patterns (snacking and more convenience) brought Rijk Zwaan to snack products and that’s where opportunities for growers are. "It's not easy, but in the USA and UK you already see many concepts that are specifically aimed at this." Also the emergence of lettuce variants (40 varieties at Albert Heijn) and oriental eating habits are important for the company.
However, the biggest development that Maarten indicates is the advance of social media and digitalization. "In the beginning, the consumer ordered shoes online, but nowadays also fish and meat, and more and more fresh produce. Online retail has seen double digit growth for years. On social media like Pinterest it is instantly clear what the consumer is doing. That is where the opportunities are."
Annemieke Hendriks gave a presentation during the second part of the afternoon. The author of the book "De tomaat en de bizarre wereld van vers voedsel" ("The tomato and the weird world of fresh food") gives readers an insight into the somewhat strange horticultural sector (what is German about a tomato, cultivated in a Dutch greenhouse with Dutch seed and with Belgian machinery?) but also held a mirror up to the sector. After that, it was time for drinks and chat with Vortus customers and advisors.
Check out the photo report of the celebration here