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A special moment for Louise Bakker: her first tomato harvest as an owner

The season's first tomato harvest is always special, especially so for KBB Holland in Steenbergen, the Netherlands. Their first tomato harvest on April 2 marked the inaugural harvest for the company's new owner, the 27-year-old Louise Bakker. The event was celebrated with cake. It was also an opportunity to take pictures of the new owner, to that end general manager Koen, and harvest and packaging manager Niels managed to lure her into the greenhouse.

"Recently, we all had to have our photos taken for social media and thought: now it's your turn," the two men joked. Moments later, Louise is photographed holding a box of tomatoes. The Dutch growers are content with the quality of the first Merlice clusters even though the harvest was a week later than usual due to the recent gloomy weather.

Louise Bakker with the season's first harvest. KBB Holland's products are distributed through Oxin Growers.

Milking cows
The new young owner has worked for KBB for less than six months. "I wanted to be involved right from the planting." Until the end of November, Louise worked as a salesperson for insect breeding company Protix. "It was fascinating to see how they've grown rapidly from a great idea."

Before starting her career, Louise studied business administration at HAS University of Applied Sciences and later Management, Economics, and Consumer Studies at Wageningen University & Research. "It's similar to agricultural business administration," she explains.

At her mother's birthday party last year, her father said that they considered selling a greenhouse because partner Martin Bouwman wanted to retire. Louise understood this as a career opportunity, "I thought: This is my chance to step in," she says.

At home, at the dairy farm, she learned to milk cows at an early age. She rarely visited KBB Holland, located 45 minutes away by car. "Milking cows as a part-time job made much more sense to me than working with tomatoes."

KBB Holland has three greenhouses in Steenbergen (the Netherlands) totaling 17.6 hectares

Internship in tomato cultivation
She did have an interest in horticulture. "During my studies, I also did an internship in tomato cultivation. At De Bruijn Tomatoes, I was able to explore whether I liked to work in the tomato cultivation business without being constantly monitored."

Indeed, she did. Louise has followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, who started the company with Martin more than 20 years ago. In the summer of 2019, the three generations and Martin and his wife Georgette were photographed together. "I always wanted to take over the tomato business. The opportunity just came sooner than expected."

Since January 1, she and her father, Nils, have been running the company, which spans a total of 17.6 hectares of greenhouse. "He didn't quite expect that I wanted to run the company. My father has really challenged me to find out if I truly wanted it."

In the coming years, Louise aims to continue the company's current trajectory. "We've agreed not to make many changes in the next two years." The company's name will also remain the same. Although Martin has stepped down as an owner, he is still frequently in the greenhouse. "I can always call him."

The same goes for Georgette, who has been involved with KBB Holland from the very beginning and was responsible for HR/Personnel matters. "Georgette supports me not only in personnel matters but also in leadership and personal development."

Positive and surprised reactions

In her new role, Louise has a helicopter view of the company. "I try to spend most of the day in the greenhouse, I want to learn a lot from our specialists and become a good generalist myself. This way, I can independently run the company and also manage weekend shifts without, for example, having to ask for help with malfunctions. I never expected to learn how to change a spark plug in the CHP until recently."

From the moment Louise announced that she was going to lead a large tomato cultivation company at 27, she received many positive reactions. "Including some surprised reactions because I am young and female. Traditionally, horticulture is a male-dominated industry, but I see this as a very normal step." Her father is also happy about it. "With me on board, he wants to continue for a while."

One change that has already been visible alongside Louise's daily presence is that KBB Holland is more active on social media. It was Louise's idea. "Currently, Charlotte (Martin and Georgette's daughter) handles our social media. We try to regularly post company updates from on Facebook and Instagram. That's important, also for recruiting new people." Several team members have already been introduced on social media. "And now I guess it's my turn," concludes Louise with a laugh.

Niels, Louise, and Koen

For more information:
KBB Holland
[email protected]

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