During GreenTech Amsterdam, Rijk Zwaan participated in the session ‘Growing for consumer needs' on the Vision Stage. Shuang Fan, Account Manager Horticultural Projects at Rijk Zwaan explains why this specific theme is so important for the vegetable breeding company and for horticulture in general.
"Producing is one thing, but then selling those products and realizing a good turnover is another. At Rijk Zwaan, we know how important it is for growers to be able to grow products that they can sell on specific markets. We want to help them to do this successfully by mapping out the wishes of the market and translating them into suitable varieties. But also, by calculating the turnover in advance, so that the risks can be minimized. In this way, growers can already think about the direction they want to go and the right choices when making their business plan."
Needs and challenges
Rijk Zwaan has a worldwide Chain & Retail team of more than 25 people. "Together we collect all the necessary information from all over the world", says Shuang Fan. "Like the needs of consumers, the needs of the retail sector and the obstacles and challenges in the field of logistics and packaging. Based on that information, we can tell growers what the trends are."
Rijk Zwaan always starts with the consumer and then goes back in the chain. "What do people want to eat, where are those products sold, in what quantities, at what price, what packaging is needed for this, etc. When those questions are answered, we take a step back to look at the retail and logistical picture and then a final step back to the grower. Which market does the grower want to serve, what is needed for this and which choices must be made? Based on the information we have collected and the trends that arise from it, we can calculate the expected turnover, so that the grower can build a successful business case."
Over the years, Rijk Zwaan has been able to build long-term relationships with parties worldwide. "We have offices in over 30 countries and therefore work closely with local parties. In this way we can connect growers with the market. But we are also often approached by parties from the market itself with specific questions. Retailers look for quality and unique products and ask us which growers they should contact. So, you could say Rijk Zwaan really plays a connecting role in this."
Local eating habits
According to Shuang Fan, the wishes of consumers differ per country. "Due to the culture and local eating habits, each country has its own trends and developments. For example, consumers in China prefer pink tomatoes, whereas in Western Europe we rather eat red tomatoes. Also, in Poland many pink tomatoes are grown, but because surrounding countries prefer to eat red tomatoes, they are not suitable for export. And France is a country where relatively many organic tomatoes are eaten. As a grower, you have to take all these factors into account."
The way vegetables are used and processed is also an important element. "In Asia, for example, cucumbers are widely used in wok dishes. That requires a different cucumber than is used in salads. The wok cucumber should not leak water and has to be crunchier." Another example is fast-food restaurants who are using tomatoes on their hamburgers "They want a firm tomato that is less wet and combines well with meat. So, you have to get to know all those cultures, wishes and applications to be able to make good decisions as a grower. The Rijk Zwaan team takes care of that."
However, the worldwide presence of Rijk Zwaan and the good connections with market parties are no guarantee for the future, says Shuang Fan. "Because the world is constantly changing, we can't just sit back and relax. Eating habits change with new generations. You see a growing need for convenience and online sales are also an important development. To breed the right varieties, you need to be able to look 10 to 15 years ahead. So, you have to take into account the trends and wishes of tomorrow."
That also means that sometimes new parties join in, such as Alibaba that is becoming increasingly active on the fresh market. "Online shopping is a major trend, partly due to Covid. This requires different logistics and shelf life of the products. Moreover, online buyers expect not only a good quality product, but also a product that is consistent. The next time they order again, they expect the exact same product. From a breeding perspective, this is a trend you can't ignore."
Water and energy
But the increasing scarcity of energy and water is also a development that influences Rijk Zwaan's breeding program, concludes Shuang Fan. "We are actively looking for varieties that can help growers with these issues. It is important to continue to focus on those matters, so that the grower is ultimately offered the right vegetable varieties, with which he can also be successful in the future."