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Luc Bruneel and Leen Matthé, Belgium's Coöperatie Hoogstraten

"Cooperative came to mean something last year"

“It was hectic in the run-up to Christmas. Yet, even in the week before Christmas, we could deliver many products. We always have to wait and see how big the demand is. But last year, it was especially difficult to predict. Unpredictability is one of the words we can use to describe last year," says Luc Bruneel of Coöperatie Hoogstraten in Belgium.

"It was an unusual year for everyone. But it's precisely in that tough year that we - as a cooperative, together with our growers and clients -proved the power of working together. By focusing on top service, we stayed on course. I think everyone who did their best to achieve that should be complimented."

Coöperatie Hoogstraten has long been known for its strawberry auction. Yet the cooperative is so much more. "We have a wonderful, extensive range of fruit-vegetables. We have about 350 hectares of modern greenhouses. And along with our growers, we're strongly committed to innovation," says Luc.

"Many crops are currently coming to an end. But in tomatoes, lit-cultivation has just started. This farming method lets you offer clients products of consistent quality in the winter. Half the 225 hectares of tomatoes are equipped with lighting. In recent years a lot has been invested in energy-efficient LED. This isn't only sustainable. It also benefits the products' quality."


Sweetest Queen mini TOV

“We'll continue rolling out the ideas we brought to market last year. We have fantastic developments for vine and special tomatoes," explains Leen Matthé. "The Princess TOV Marinice variety is a new one that's been accepted. This tomato has a higher Brix value and a beautiful red color. It's also better protected against several types of harmful insects."

"We're adding a medium-sized TOV to the range too. We'll market under the name Cuisinesse. This TOV has a flat bunch, which makes it very suitable as a retail packaged tomato. It was well-received last year already. So, we'll continue to expand it."

San Marzano tomatoes

San Marzano and Sweetest Queen
Coöperatie Hoogstraten isn't only introducing TOV. They're going to bring four more innovations into focus this year. These are in the special tomato segment. "The San Marzano is one of them. People can't visit restaurants anymore and have to cook for themselves. There has, therefore, been a sharp increase in tomato sales," continues Leen.

"We consider the San Marzano as a substitute for plum tomatoes. We have the mini truffle tomato, Sweetest Queen, too. The trade highly appreciates this variety. It sits firmly on the vine, has a nice color, and consumers like its flavor. Tomeco grows this variety. It's a fully-fledged successor to the mini bell pepper tomato."

Product of the year, 2020: the Yoom tomato

Yoom and Petite Délice
“We're going to keep developing the Yoom tomato too. It won the 2020 Innovation Award at Fruit Logistica. And it was proclaimed product of the year in Belgium. It's a striking tomato because of its color and unique umami flavor. That makes shoppers curious. So, we, and our partners, including grower, Den Berk, believe in the Yoom," says Leen.

"In Belgium and Germany, the Yoom's been very successful introduced, But we will certainly take further steps." The Petite Délice berry tomato is another eye-catching product. "This small, colorful, tasty tomato is an ideal snack for children, but also goes perfectly with salads. It's a very rewarding tomato variety whose volume is gradually increasing."


"Petite Délice is a great snack for kids"

Last year, COVID-19 drew attention to home-cooking as well as healthy food. "That was a great opportunity for the fruit and vegetable sector," says Leen. "We don't have to put any effort into convincing people of our products' health benefits. We hope people will continue to eat healthily even after the crisis."

"On the other hand, getting all the processes to continue was a challenge, considering the measures put in place. Our goal was to work with the whole team to ensure clients noticed as little of COVID-19's impact as possible. We're, therefore, particularly proud of our growers. In those difficult times, they worked hard to get food on our plates. Cooperative took on true meaning in 2020."

Tomeco cultivates Sweetest Queen 

“Brexit happened a few days ago, but things are still uncertain. Nevertheless, we rely on the strength of our products' quality and our exporters' expertise and know-how. I hope that in these tough times, the knowledge and experience we've built up will continue. We'll support our clients who want to strengthen their position in the UK. We'll provide the necessary service regarding certification. Despite all the challenges, we're optimistic about the future. Last year taught us a lot and showed us we can achieve much together," concludes our Luc.

For more information:
Luc Bruneel
Leen Matthé
Coöperatie Hoogstraten
59 Loenhoutseweg (Kluis Z.1 - 1050)
2320,  Hoogstraten, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 334 00 211

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