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receivers AC Hartman are aiming for clarity this week

Plenty of interest in 50 hectare bankrupt Dutch greenhouse company

Following the news of the bankruptcy of Dutch greenhouse company A.C. Hartman, the receiver says there's plenty of interest in the 58 hectare greenhouse facility.

On Friday afternoon the court in Leeuwarden declared the bankruptcy of nursery A.C. Hartman after major shareholder The Fruit Farm Group filed for it earlier that day. 

This week, takeover discussions are planned. According to the receivers they now are in the middle of the 'exploratory phase'. "After the bankruptcy was announced, several parties reported their interest. It's a small world. We are now looking into the possibility of a relaunch", said Ronald Klarus with Yspeert Advocaten.

The receivers are aiming to provide clarity within this week. "We quickly want to talk to all parties, because it involves a crop and that means that the trade is going on every day."

In the meantime the cultivation goes on in the greenhouses, and the employees, even though officially unemployed by now, continue their job as the receiver asked them to do. The company can be sold more easily in this state than when the crop would have been terminated.

It also means Dutch retailer Albert Heijn, of which AC Hartman is a premier supplier, will not have to face product shortages.

Speculation about causes
Ronald could not say whether major share holder The Fruit Farm Group (TFFG) had also expressed interest in relaunching. "But if they do, we will discuss matters with them. We do not exclude anyone and certainly invite interested parties to come forward, so that quickly clarity can be obtained and good agreements can be made with creditors."

With the bankruptcy, there's a large cultivation company available on the market - something quite rare for the Netherlands. In recent years TFFG sold other premises that before were a part of AC Hartman, resulting in a current acreage of 58 hectares, of which a significant part is used for organic cultivation. This all becomes available all at once.

Plans that never happened
The former family company was taken over by TFFG in mid-2017 and major expansion plans were announced at the moment of acquisition. Nothing of that has been realized. Ever since the acquisition lawsuits have been filed and rumors have been popping up about the situation in the greenhouse. The rumors grew more intense after the former owner committed suicide just three months after selling the business. 

Last year, around Christmas, a reorganization was announced, and the company seemed to be moving into more steady waters. However, right before summer The Fruit Farm group faced significant losses. The company talked about possibly selling A.C. Hartman. It is said this has not been possible due to all the skeletons in the closet that weighed down on the company - skeletons that were found after the TFFG acquisition. 

Final straw
Now there's speculation on the exact cause or the final straw. It is said that a lost court case concerning geothermal heat, for which a subsidy must be repaid, has played a role in the TFFG decision. "It is still too early to really say something about that, but I suspect that there are also other causes at the heart of the bankruptcy," said Ronald, who this week is working on the case with several receivers.

Hidden problems
Sijtze de Bruine, on behalf of Dutch trade union CNV, was involved in the ailing company last year. He said he hoped for ‘a good takeover candidate, one without hidden problems’. According to the trade union negotiator, the bankruptcy is not entirely logical. He is referring to the solid position of the cultivation company, with retailer Albert Heijn, for example, as the major buyer, which means there's stable sales. 

"It turned out not to be solid anyway", concludes Sijtze de Bruine now, after a tumultuous year for AC Hartman. “At the start of this year, as a trade union in close cooperation with the employer, we managed to convert a major reorganization at Hartman into a smaller one, including a substantial investment in training and retraining. But before the summer holidays, the balance at the Belgian parent company The Fruit Farm Group (since 2017) suddenly experienced heavy losses. Rumors that were there at the time were dismissed, but have now led to the definitive demise. TFFG has filed for bankruptcy for AC Hartman."

De Bruine emphasizes that a possible bankruptcy would be a deception for the employees. “AC Hartman largely determines the employment opportunities around Sexbierum. And in the event of bankruptcy nothing is left for the employees. That is why we will again - just like in December 2018 - carefully examine whether such a mega intervention is correct or even necessary."

A relaunch would be nice, he says. "Because the company deserves it. But then it must also be prevented that the employees are left empty-handed. Such a restart must also go smoothly for them." 

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