Man and machine in perfect harmony - that is Japanese car manufacturer, Mazda's, slogan. Looking at Dutch wholesaler, Van Gelder's, new head office gives one the same impression. In the facility two Plant Production Units (PPUs) are realised, to offer inspiration in the field of vertical farming. Earlier this year Van Gelder entered a partnership with indoor farming specialist PlantLab to realise this facility.
New Van Gelder building
This new building in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands, is still in its test phase and includes features such as the High Care kitchen, processing, and packaging divisions, and kitchen. These have all been further optimized and enlarged. The warehouse process has been almost entirely mechanized too. All this in a 32,000m2. The whole company will move over at the end of the first quarter of 2020. Our editors were given a sneak peek of the new facilities.
Meeting place for healthy eating
"We have grown tremendously in recent years," says Van Gelder's General Director, Gerrit van Gelder. "Last year, we again realized a healthy growth in revenue. This new location was, therefore, desperately needed."
It will not be merely a fruit and vegetable warehouse. "We are helping to meet the demand for tasty, healthy, sustainable products. We have noticed that chefs are open to having more vegetables in their dishes."
"The hospitality industry is moving more toward 80% vegetables, 20% meat. We are responding to that with this building. It will become a meeting place for healthy food. A place where all your senses will be stimulated," explains Gerrit.
Gerrit van Gelder in front of the banana plants in the new building's entrance.
Come to Van Gelder in a few months, and you will have your choice of healthy meals. There will be 30 serving counters. People will be able to enjoy a fruit salad, smoothie, or healthy sandwich from the refrigerated counter. There is also a good chance the lettuce and herbs will come from the company's own vertical farm. This cultivation is done in their PlantLab's fully controlled Plant Production Units.
"We were looking for tastier, more nutritious products. We discovered the possibilities vertical farming has to offer. We can grow lettuce and herbs in just 18 days. And we can do so in the most sustainable manner."
"In the future, we will go in search of more new, special tasting products. We will do this in consultation with our clients. Seed breeders are getting the opportunity to bring new crops onto the market. These are based on increasingly renewed techniques and plant knowledge," Van Gelder continues.
Vertical cultivation units
The vertical cultivation units are located on the third floor of the Experience Center. In this building, there is also room to hold events for as many as 500 people. Some of Van Gelder's suppliers have made these consultation areas uniquely their own.
These suppliers include Zespri, Greenco, Fruit Masters, and Deli-Jack. Then there are, Fruity-Pack, Koppert Cress, Schaap Holland, and Peka Kroef. Beekers Berries, Fruity-Line, and BVP packaging are included too.
These areas showcase the Dutch food sector to every visitor to Van Gelder's new home. From 1 March 2020, these spaces will be up for hire for meetings and such. Outside the new building, no fewer than 540 fruit trees have been planted. Roelof Tree Nursery and fruit farmer, De Jong provided these trees. In this way, visitors will be able to compare many of the fruit varieties with each other.
"At this location, we can further explain our tale for healthier eating. Van Gelder will soon share our growers' personal stories with both international and local visitors. This will happen in the Experience Center as well as outside in the orchard," says Gerrit. ‘’It is literally our source-to-plate story."
Advanced shuttle system
Moving on to the warehouse. "Our assortment is expanding rapidly. The market also has ever-shorter turnaround times. As a result, we focused strongly on innovation in the new warehouse. This has been done thanks to the automation and mechanization of all processes."
Vanderlande largely provided the warehouse's automation. This company is very active in baggage logistics at airports. The warehouse boasts an advanced shuttle system. It is good for 52,000 tray storage locations served by 92 ADAPTOs.
This system sends products to order pickers, in crates, at their work stations. Prepared orders are then immediately refrigerated. When needed, these orders are automatically placed on the loading docks, ready to be delivered.
"We bring the products to the people, rather than having the people fetch the products. For this market segment, this type of technology is truly innovative," says Gerrit. Far fewer order pickers are, therefore, needed. More staff is, however, required in the company's technical division.
The washing of the crates is also fully automated. As many as 3,000 crates are washed per hour. This is thanks to a Viscon-designed crate washing line. There is not only a shuttle warehouse for crate storage. There is also a pallet warehouse with different temperature zones.
Workspaces, each with its own unique function, have been set up. An example of this is the building's ripening cells. Visitors can get an idea of the added value Van Gelder provides. They can also taste it later.
‘’We are getting more and more of our products directly from the source. Ripening in our building is done in a controlled, even manner. In this way, the fruit is always tasty. You may as well have picked it from the tree yourself."
’Fruit is picked long before it naturally ripens. This practice is due to large-scale food distribution to, for example, supermarkets. This fruit can then be easily transported and stored for an extended period," the General Director goes on to say.
"The fruit in our orchard may only be picked once it is sufficiently ripe. Each piece of fruit is, therefore, much tastier when you eat it. Whether it comes from a tree on our doorstep or from our warehouse."
Van Gelder believes in minimal risk of loss and the highest possible yields. For this reason, they have a processing area in a 12.000m2+ space. It has 35 product lines. They also have a packaging room and various production kitchens. "We want to add more value to everything we do. We want to give something back," concludes Gerrit.
For those who want to have a look at the building - after its official opening, there will be tours twice a week. The public at large is welcome to join. For now, we have compiled an extensive photo report.