Growing for the local market. That was the wish that Cees and Nynke Groenewegen brought along with them to Sweden 13 years ago. From their greenhouses in the town of Karintorp, near Åsbro, they provide shops and restaurants with a wide range of tomatoes.
Cultivation outside the Netherlands is nothing new for Cees. After he graduated secondary horticultural school at the end of 1987, he left for Canada to work for a year as assistant cultivation manager on a bell pepper farm. Then he met his wife Nynke, who worked at a pot plant nursery. After returning to the Netherlands he worked for a while in his family's Westland tomato business. In 1991, Cees and Nynke moved to Friesland. In Sexbierum they ran a bell pepper business for five years before the company was taken over by a neighbor.
In 2005 an advertisement drew their attention. It said that a company in Sweden was up for sale. "We wanted to do something for ourselves again. In August we went to have a look and by December it was ours. Here we could grow for the local market, something which was difficult to do in the Netherlands."
Five years ago the company expanded from 2300 m2 to 4212 m2. "Worldwide we're a small company, but we are well known in this region. From the start we've kept good, personal contact with our customers," says Cees. "Because of the expansion, there was less time left for personal customer contact. We are now affiliated with growers association MOEK who mediates for us. They now have daily contact with the customers. How is the product doing? How is the quality and does it have the right place on the shelf? You get a top spot only when supermarkets find your product interesting."
Wide range of products
"We now have about 25 varieties, but some only get half a row." The wide range is partly due to demand, but Cees also finds it a challenge to come up with new varieties on the market. "If you try out five, you can go through with one or two. It is quite difficult to supplement the existing range of the supermarket. We distinguish ourselves by emphasizing that our tomatoes are tasteful, unsprayed and of high quality. Growing for the local market has the advantage that the transport lines are shorter and that the products are quickly on the shelves. The costs are higher. But," says Cees, "Sweden is chauvinistic enough to pay the extra price. For that we have to ensure every day that our products are better than the products that are elsewhere in the store."
The Groenewegen family likes it a lot in Sweden. "Of course we miss the cup of coffee with the family, but that is part of the choice we made." Cees continues: "Moving within Europe does not even feel like emigrating. In terms of culture, Sweden does not differ much from the Netherlands."