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Heleen Bos, Specialist Organics at Rijk Zwaan:

"Market for organic vegetables is nowhere near saturated"

Organic is still booming. In Europe and the USA, the market grew by 5-8% in 2017, and more and more organic vegetables are making their way onto supermarket shelves on the world’s other continents too. Around 40% of all Rijk Zwaan’s varieties are suitable for organic production. Some seeds are organically produced, and others are non-chemically treated (NCT). Rijk Zwaan supports partners that want to invest in this segment by providing technical advice and ‘matchmaking’ in the chain, explains Heleen Bos, Specialist Organics at Rijk Zwaan.

“Organic vegetables have become a serious business and mature market, thanks in part to the Millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000). They are ‘choosy’ consumers who are looking for tasty, healthy and environmentally friendly vegetables, and they are prepared to pay good money for them. The days of maggot-ridden apples are over for good. Today’s consumers want truly stand-out quality products that look different.”

Discerning consumers

“Growth in organics is also being driven by discerning consumers who want to know where their food comes from. They are mainly concerned about food safety. They choose organic because they don’t want any chemicals on their fresh produce. We’re not only seeing this trend in developed markets, but also in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The growing middle classes want to be certain that their food is safe to eat, so even supermarkets in countries like Ghana and Peru have a section selling organic products.”

No empty shelves

“All retailers are responding to the trend, and in fact they are keen to expand their organic product range because the market is nowhere near saturated yet. However, they can’t afford to have empty shelves. Product supply is the biggest challenge in this growing market, and this offers a great opportunity for growers. It takes two or three years for a grower to switch to organic production, so it’s an investment of time and money. At Rijk Zwaan we can help growers both during and after the transition, because we have a team of crop specialists who are experienced in organic production. And that help extends beyond just technical advice; we regularly put organic growers in contact with retailers, because our chain managers know both the market and its companies well.”

Ever-improving offering

“Rijk Zwaan has a large organic range; close to half of our total assortment is available for organic production, covering all main greenhouse products, lettuce, spinach and many other crops. Some of our seeds are organically produced and others are non-chemically treated. We strive to further improve our organic offering every year. Varieties must be resistant against diseases and pests, as well as strong and robust, but organic vegetables must also have an excellent flavour and appearance. After all, consumers are critical. They expect tasty products that are also visibly different, such as our striped aubergine Angela RZ, our plum truss tomato Wasino RZ or our Sweet Palermo sweet pointed peppers.”

Laser marking

“It’s not only the product itself that has to stand out, but also the packaging. Needless to say, we’d prefer to have biodegradable packaging or none at all, and we’re working on some ideas with our partners. Eosta, a Dutch distributor of organic fruit and vegetables, has started laser marking fresh produce. We’re testing it on our varieties to determine the effect on shelf life. We regularly set up chain projects for organic produce with Eosta and other partners, with whom we exchange knowledge about our varieties and how they are marketed. We’re working to further develop the organic segment together.”

What’s the difference between organic and NCT?

At Rijk Zwaan, we supply both organic seed and NCT seed. Our organic seed is produced in line with organic production principles, and we are certified for this process. It means that we run more risks, because we may not use chemicals during the seed production process. To minimise the likelihood of diseases, we grow the organic seeds in special fields and in special greenhouses, and they are processed and packed in a separate area. This entails extra costs, resulting in a higher price than for regular seeds.

NCT stands for ‘non-chemically treated’. NCT seeds are produced using conventional methods but do not receive a chemical coating or chemical additives. Whether organic growers are allowed to use NCT seed depends on all kinds of factors, such as the availability of organic seed. The rules vary from one country to another, even within the EU. New legislation is currently being prepared in Brussels aimed at banning the use of non-organic or NCT seed in the production of organic vegetables by 2035. Rijk Zwaan is keeping a close eye on these developments.

For more information:
Rijk Zwaan
[email protected]

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