Grower Jaco Huysman and his father used to grow radishes. With the arrival of the bunching machine, they had to choose: "If you go bigger, it has to suit you, but radishes have never been my thing," says Sandra Huysman, nowadays the face of nursery De Westlandse Aardbei alongside Jaco, in a business report on the website of Alfa Accountants and Advisors.
Since 2004, radishes have been exchanged for strawberries in the older greenhouse, and they are very tasty strawberries at that, emphasizes Sandra. She talks about the conscious business decisions the growers make, including their sales.
"I never understood horticulture. You make all your investments and then you say to the person buying from you: just pay us whatever you want to. You don't see that in any other sector, right? But how do we ensure that a better product is also paid for better? And that our products are available in more places? I went out with our strawberries, to the shops. Let your customers taste them."
Own brand with packaging
The vending machine on the street shows that consumers appreciate the strikingly sweet strawberries, and the shops are quick to follow suit. An own brand ('De Westlandse Aardbei') was introduced, complete with packaging. It is a total concept that is unique for more than one reason. "Our strawberries ripen on the plant, and within a few hours of being harvested, they are on the shelves: they are transported directly from the plant to the shelves. Because everything is fresh, there is no loss for the shop, nor do we supply the distribution centers of large retailers. We do business directly with the shops, and we charge the same price all year round so the shop has a fixed margin. Of course, you can't keep everyone happy. If a shop is only interested in the price, it's not the right fit for us."
The two also stand for exclusivity. Sandra: "There can only be one point of sale in a small area. In a larger area, it is possible to have more, but not if they are located next to each other. Hoogvliet wanted to sell our strawberries in 's-Gravenzande, but they are already at Koornneef Versmarkt." The fact that greengrocer Koornneef has a much smaller customer base does not change the principle. "We are in the business of building relationships. We don't drop a smaller customer just because a larger one comes along."
Limited room for growth
The couple now keeps 100% of the sales in their own hands, and the bright red 'jewels' of De Westlandse Aardbei are now available throughout the whole of South Holland, as far as Katwijk and Oud-Beijerland. Five years ago, they invested in a new greenhouse of over two hectares, good for more than 200,000 plants. Remarkably, Sandra and Jaco grow Elsanta, a traditional variety that is often grown by strawberry growers. Sandra: "But we grow them very patiently, we let the fruit ripen on the plant. We pick when the strawberry turns red, so that the sugars get into the fruit. However, it is more difficult to harvest strawberries when they are ripe, which is another reason why we need that short marketing line. If it goes to a trading company, that line becomes longer."
It is hectic from mid-April until June and from September until December. In the busy period, everything revolves around the company. "We use the quiet period to reflect: are we still on the right track? Can we still implement new things? The alternation between the busy and the quiet period also has a certain charm."
The Huysmans are happy with their loyal (temporary) staff. "Things are very personal with us. We don't want temporary employees of only one nationality, but several. That way we create a bit of understanding for each other's culture, and it works. We see that employees of different nationalities follow each other on Facebook. This way, you get a close-knit team where the social aspect is an important point."
Jam and syrup
The shop in the hall also sells jam and strawberry syrup. Purely natural, says Sandra: "In a jar of jam, more than 80% of the fruit is strawberry, and there is much less sugar in it. I need 750 grams of strawberries for half a liter of syrup. However, our core business remains strawberries themselves."
Recognized accounting firm
Alfa's Naaldwijk branch keeps track of the numbers. "It has done so since time immemorial. We don't switch around, and Alfa is a recognized accountancy firm. Very reliable. They make sure that all is well with the administration and that everything goes according to the rules. We can't keep up with all the regulations, you can't understand everything. You need a professional office for that."
For more information:
Alfa Accountants en Adviseurs