Eat Your Greens Company is a vegetable, lettuce and herb producer with an almost encyclopedic array of lines, grown throughout summer on four farms in Gauteng and in winter grown for them on farms in the far north of Limpopo. They grow about 60% themselves of what they supply, packed on their superbly situated Midrand farm which acts as a backup to the other production units.
On their farms they’re growing over 140 varieties of vegetables, lettuce and herbs. This year they have acquired another farm to the west of Pretoria with a colder microclimate where they will be trialling more cold-hardy vegetables and heirloom varieties.
“Our lines are the exotic and the unusual,” says Roedolf van der Merwe, who was brought in six years ago came in to rescue a struggling vegetable business, which he bought out three years ago and rebranded as Eat Your Greens Company. He spent some years in the flower export industry which has informed some of his decisions, like selling on a fixed price throughout the season.
The company was built on servicing the retail and restaurant segment (although they have cut down on the latter when they found they were competing against themselves), with 5% going on order to municipal markets. “It’s about quality and service delivery,” Roedolf says. “We go out of our way to find product. We don’t say no to a client. And if we don’t have it, we go out to find it.”
Allick Juwa, farm manager on the Midrand farm, on one of the regular visits by management to the other production units
They’ve seen growth of 30% and more year-on-year as Roedolf has been focusing on finding new clients and continually developing new lines and bringing in unusual seed to trial on their farms. “I like playing around with new and unusual varieties,” he says, noting he started growing vegetables and succulents for sale at primary school already.
“Our advantage is that we have our own packhouse. We have been growing tremendously but we always first have the market before we expand which is a good position to be in.”
This year they have received their first programme to grow baby vegetables for export to the UK: coloured carrots and beetroot, savoy and red cabbage, cauliflower and Romanesco cauliflower.
They’re also supplying pre-packaged vegetables and herbs to meal box companies which supply recipes and all required ingredients to customers.
Pictured right is the packhouse supervisor, Zandile Duma.
Eat Your Greens product lines
They are also in the process of launching the 22 lines that make up their own branded retail line, which is carried in the private retail sector and at greengrocers, of which some lines are unique, like corn salad or lamb’s lettuce (not well-known in South Africa), radicchio, endive (not witlof or Belgian endive) and mini herbs, which fall between micro and baby herbs.
Each product comes in differently coloured packaging which is further unique in its use of a white background. The spring onion and celery lines have already been launched.
Roedolf has thought long and hard about what consumers in smaller households need while optimising price points and has decided to follow the European lead by offering 70g bags of their herbs and lettuce. “Offering 70g of microgreens or our baby leaf mix is just the right size for a meal for a family of three. You can’t eat a 100g of microgreens. Five of our lines will be in 70g bags. We’re spending a lot on our packaging, we have a dream.”
He notes that it has taken some years for herb punnets to break through the R10 ceiling in the South African retail, selling at around R6,99 to R9,00 for a long time, while last year it finally broke through the R10 mark, which, he says, is actually selling herbs at half-price, given inflation, while at some retailers punnet volumes have been adjusted downwards to 20g.
The production is currently a third biological, a third organic and a third chemical. “We’re planning to enlarge the biological and organic segments. Biological farming is good for soil health, organic is for plant health and we use chemicals only curatively. I like to eat my own produce from the land with full assurance,” Roedolf says, as chickens raid Brussels sprout plants for aphids outside his office.
“We’re telling a story and I’m very proud of our story. We’re living the concept of urban farming and fresh. Because of our proximity to both Johannesburg and Pretoria many clients come to us to pick up supplies.”
The new McCormick B90 Max, bought after an inspiring visit Roedolf paid to European vegetable growers