Yesterday, Coöperatie Hoogstraten kicked off the new strawberry season in a festive mood. Last year, they did it digitally, but this year, the cooperative could again receive guests at its premises in Belgium. As is tradition, the first tray of strawberries was auctioned, and Sebrechts Groenten & Fruit from Antwerp bought it for €500 per 500g punnet. The tray consists of eight of these punnets, bringing the total to €4,000.
The cooperative then doubled that amount to €8,000 on behalf of its growers. As always, this money is donated to charity, and this year the choice fell on the Nadjmi Foundation. This foundation, set up by Belgian-Iranian, Dr. Nasser Nadjmi, helps children with schisis (or cleft palate) all over the world.
"His perseverance impressed us. Growers are all too familiar with putting your heart and soul into something every day. That's why we asked Dr. Nadjmi if he'd like to receive our donation this year," says a Coöperatie Hoogstraten representative.
The 'Ghesellen van de Aardbei' were among the attendees when the check was officially handed over to Julie and Kian Nadjmi, Dr. Nadjmi's children. They received it on behalf of the Nadjmi Foundation. Dr. Nadjmi could not be there but sent a video message of thanks to the guests.
After the check handover, exporters, wholesalers, and online buyers got their turn at the Hoogstraten auction.
Sebrechts Groenten & Fruit's owner, Ellen Sebrechts, was delighted with their strawberry purchase. "We're pleased we could buy these strawberries and thus help kick off the Belgian strawberry season. With this purchase, we want to underline the importance of local production. We believe in offering as many Belgian products as possible. We're fully committed to partnerships with local producers. Doing our bit for a national charity is a nice bonus."
At the champagne breakfast, held to end the event, people got to see the latest strawberry specialties. The guests enjoyed peach strawberries, raspberry strawberries, wild strawberries, and pineapple strawberries. Eirbissemhof's Guy Herrijgers cultivated all these. The white strawberry - though a fluke - is this grower's striking newcomer. "All of a sudden, I had a plant producing white strawberries. It's definitely not a mutation." These strawberries are especially popular in Japan and Dubai.
Hoogstraten took the opportunity to share its plans for the future. For example, it has completely revamped its consumer website, adding recipes, blogs, and various tidbits. The professional, client website will be finished soon. "We're also thrilled to be able to organize the International Strawberry Congress again this year. This fourth edition will be from September 21 to 24, 2022, in Antwerp. We want to connect science and business at this congress. It should be successful because last time, delegates from 26 countries attended."
The cooperative reiterated how important sustainability is to it. It has, for instance, obtained the CSR charter for the 11th time. It is also preparing a sustainability plan for 2022, focusing on solar panels and employee sustainability.
Also, Hoogstraten wants to use a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) tool to develop more sustainable packaging, as these materials make up 70 to 80% of the cooperative's CO2 footprint. One result of the LCA tool is the cardboard punnets project. All this packaging will be made from cardboard, which will be fully recyclable and biodegradable too. You can also trace the products via a QR code on the boxes.
The COVID pandemic did not negatively affect Coöperatie Hoogstraten. On the contrary - it achieved a €302 million turnover in 2021, a third record year in a row. The reason for this, it says, is that many consumers could only eat at home. As a result, fruit and vegetable sales increased.