Wrap-up of ‘Organic Days’ at Rijk Zwaan Welver (Germany)

Partnering to take organics to the next level

Consumers are increasingly aware of environmental factors, quality and health aspects when buying their food. Worldwide sustainability awareness is also adding to the popularity of organic food. But growing in organics requires additional attention from all partners in the chain.

Organic Days

Rijk Zwaan Welver invited a group of 50 growers and chain partners from Germany, the Czech Republic, Scandinavia, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands to attend its ‘Organic Days’ event on 4 and 5 September 2019. Led by three presentations by Dr Andrea Grimm, Peter Polak (Purchasing Manager, Naturelle | The Greenery) and Heleen Bos (Specialist Organics at Rijk Zwaan), they discussed the developments in organic growing and consumer trends, and they took a deep dive into a chain project.

Digitalisation steers the organic market

“The organic market is booming! It all started with pioneering, driven by individual growers who were selling their organic products to their personal networks,” recalled Dr Andrea Grimm. “The demand for organic products grew, and more and more farmers jumped into organic farming, while controlling systems were developed and implemented. These days organic food is almost everywhere, it’s part of consumers’ daily shopping, and it has almost become a mainstream product category.” This were we are today, but the question Andrea raises here is: what will the organic market look like in the future? “Digitisation will be a key driver in taking the organic market to the next level.” Andrea showed various examples of virtual stores, vertical farming examples where consumers can ‘harvest’ their vegetables or herbs directly in-store, and of course all the online ordering and track & trace opportunities.

Smaller vegetables to combat food wastage

Peter Polak presented a new concept, ‘Little & Fresh’, launched recently as a pilot project in a Dutch supermarket. “It all began with a grower’s idea. Could mid-sized vegetables help small households to eat healthily and reduce food waste? It sounds reasonable. But what are consumer demands and would they buy those smaller vegetables? In the production chain it’s the consumer who decides which product to buy, so we aligned our step-by-step approach very closely with a consumer panel.”

This consumer research, conducted by The Greenery and Rijk Zwaan, showed that smaller vegetables could be one way of reducing vegetable wastage. “The number of smaller households is growing, and these households do have a need for smaller vegetables. That’s why we are introducing a product range consisting of some 20 smaller vegetables, including conical cabbage, broccoli and lettuce, into the market. Not only are these vegetables smaller-sized than the standard versions, but they are also available as organic in unpackaged form. A pilot project for the sale of these vegetables was recently initiated in a Dutch Jumbo supermarket. It’s very likely that the concept will soon be tested in three Jumbo supermarket formulas differing in location and clientele,” noted Peter.

Breeding for organic

“The vegetable varieties that Rijk Zwaan develops specially for the organic market have strong vigour, are productive and, above all, are resistant against many diseases and pests,” said Heleen Bos, Specialist Organics. “All our vegetables for organic production are characterised by a good flavour and high quality. Our breeders pay close attention to the organic qualities of each variety. For example, the blue-leaf cucumber varieties –recognisable by their dark-green leaves – have a naturally strong resistance. At the same time we also aim to improve the shelf life of many of our varieties to reduce waste.

“One of our most recent and successful convenience innovations was Knox™: a trait which reduces pinking in lettuce after cutting. Knox thus extends shelf life and so will reduce waste. With this trait, Rijk Zwaan offers a solution to one of the most important issues for fresh-cut companies and retailers of bagged lettuce alike. This trait is available in our organic and conventional range,” explained Heleen.

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