Royal Berry was lucky on Wednesday afternoon; under a brilliant blue sky, the 12.5-year anniversary of the Dutch strawberry growing company was celebrated. Even better, grower Jan van Genderen was able to recount in an extensive speech his rise as a strawberry entrepreneur at the newest location in Bemmel. The remarkable construction process of the 12-hectare greenhouse being built there also came to pass, with strict deadlines met in extraordinary fashion.
Also new is the office near the greenhouse. It was finished just in time for the opening. "For a grower, there are two ways to get something finished on time. One is to set a planting date, the other is to organize an open day," Jan said with his characteristic self-mockery.
But it works, the two hundred or so guests present could see. After Jan's speech, they had a chance to see the greenhouses, which had just been officially opened by the children of the Van Genderen family. Afterwards, the alderman also took to the stage with a brief word on sustainable greenhouse horticulture. On the sustainability square, specially set up for the occasion and filled with numerous project partners, there were plenty of practical examples of this. Attention will also be paid to this during the Open Day on Saturday, April 8.
Jan, Jacolien with children Louise, Boas, and Ruben in the new greenhouse.
"For me, the question is not whether it will continue, but how." Jan spoke those words last September when both greenhouses, one with lighting and one without, were glass-tight and full of plants. Deadline met.
By then, however, he was already looking ahead, knowing what was still to come. Completing the construction of the office, for example. That, too, is now finished. The tight planning, the undiminished positive outlook ahead, and also impatience typify the strawberry entrepreneur. He emphasized it himself several times in his speech, including when it came to the realization of own housing for employees. "I would rather have opened that housing now than this new company. Our people are the heart of the company."
Plenty of enthusiasm for the opening!
The grower, who was born in 1985, took the audience back to his younger years, when, at the age of 12, he slowly traded a fondness for tractors and contractors for a passion for strawberries. At the age of 17, a greenhouse of his own came along for the first time in Poederoijen. Second-hand and 'only' 4,000 square meters. The business grew to 8,000 square meters in the following years. Jan praises the support of his parents, who even sold their house to make Jan's grower's dream come true - something he considered fairly normal at the time but all the more special now. The death of his father, support, crutch, and advisor, was also a choice moment for Jan: What would he do next?
Continue growing. For this, Jan eventually decided to look for another greenhouse area together with then wife, Jacoline. At NEXTgarden, the strawberry business then continued to grow step by step. Companion Thijs van Giessen also had an important role in this, as a sounding board and later as a partner in the business. "He let me propose and shoot down my own ideas," he says. Until a new idea came along: taking over a tomato greenhouse. Jan slept an extra night on it, which isn't like him. It turned out to be a good plan that wasn't shot down. Together, the men realized the growth step in 2010.
Looking back on a quarter of a century of growing strawberries is impressive when you are still a long way from 40.
Another greenhouse vegetable business was then also acquired in 2013. This was followed by steps towards seasonal cultivation, including cultivation in summer, expansions by building in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and the move to self-packaging in 2017. "With that, we also became an interesting retail partner." A significant proportion of Royal Berry's strawberries are for export. Wednesday's attendees included English and German-speaking relations.
And then the office became too small. Smiling: "Employees without a desk, that's inconvenient anyway." With the construction of the greenhouse, including processing space and office, this 'problem' is now solved. A piece of land was still owned, so the building was possible. However, construction wasn't done the normal way. "We ended up building backwards," Jan indicated.
The glass went on when the lights were already hanging there.
By this, he meant, among other things, already leveling and installing lighting in the greenhouse, even before the windows were in place. The glass was delayed last year due to the war in Ukraine, where it was supposed to come from. Eventually, glass was sent over from China, closely followed by Jan from then on - "how slowly those boats sail" - so the construction deadlines were met.
And they had to be because, he acknowledged, the plants had already been ordered, and sales arrangements had also been made. "Thank you all for your patience," the strawberry entrepreneur concluded his speech in which he personally named quite a few people. "I hope you all also see this project as your project."
Proudly, the various project partners then told the sustainability plaza about their contribution to the project. Land leasing, a 100% closed water system that has already made Royal Berry zero-emission since 2010, CHPs that are ready should hydrogen also reach this point, and the courage to switch to full LED early, they all came up. Everyone went home at the end of the day with, of course, a box of strawberries. But not before there was a celebration encouraged by Jan himself. "Above all, don't go home too early."
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Curious about the company yourself? The open day is on Saturday, April 8, from 10 am to 4 pm.