On April 14th, in the Netherlands, the Beekers Berries Inspiration day garnered much attention. Some came to learn about cultivation, others for inspiration or both. Everyone got their money's worth as the program included a tasting and an extensive tour.
The Lambada is Beekers Berries' flagship product. Over the years, specialties like pineapple strawberries, raspberry strawberries, and bubble berries have been added. "To supply a premium soft fruit segment, you need close contact with fruit and vegetable specialists," says owner Wil Beekers, who was happy to see many of them on the day.
The premium segment is based on breeding. By developing new varieties and having exclusive rights to those, the best qualities are selected. Wil: "We're constantly researching and developing varieties. In our search for, for example, an even sweeter flavor, more juiciness, or more firmness, we test thousands of new varieties every year, traditionally. We then select only the best varieties."
Strictly managed growing means longer seasons. The plants are raised until just before flowering and then cooled back to around 1°C. That halts all processes, and the plants go dormant. Around February, the plants are placed in the greenhouse to come into production. This tight process allows for planned cultivation and ensures consistent quality.
Wil began growing strawberries as a fall product, alongside cucumbers. Before that, he had worked in breeding but wanted to cultivate his own crops. "Cucumber is a bulk product which means it's hard to differentiate. We noticed that if there's an oversupply, things go wrong. When growing strawberries, you're into direct contact with buyers, and that's how we could make a difference."
He threw himself wholeheartedly into greenhouse strawberry farming and could, thus, supplement the early and late seasons. At the request of customers, Wil added a summer crop. Cooperation with BerryWorld led to developing an import branch for year-round supply. Now, overseas, soft fruit cultures are set up under the supervision of Beekers Berries under its premium brand too.
The retail sector also became a client, and other growers joined the concept. As a result, Beekers Berries successfully markets a high-end strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, and redcurrant range. Its customers include the hospitality industry and greengrocers throughout Europe. "If we can bring Lambadas to Amsterdam, we can bring them to Rungis in Paris too," says Wil.
Wil led visitors through the greenhouse complex: 6.5 hectares of spring and fall strawberries under glass, an 8-hectare tunnel greenhouse for summer strawberries, and eight hectares of blackberries. In this cultivation concept, respect for nature is central. Bees and bumblebees pollinate throughout the greenhouse, and natural pest controls are used as widely as possible.
A tasting in the greenhouse followed the tour. Chefs explained how and where to use soft fruit in various dishes, from fruit salads to fruit cocktails.