Vegetable processor Hak wants to offer only organic vegetables from now on

It sounds spectacular: the market leader for preserved vegetables in the Netherlands wants to sell only organic vegetables within five years. It is much more stringent than the ambition of the government, which recently announced that it wanted to increase the share of organic farming from under 5 percent now to 15 percent by 2030. Hak has made a well-considered decision, says director Timo Hoogeboom, who on Wednesday announced the plans. “This is a strategic choice. As a market leader, we want to be at the forefront of local and sustainable cultivation. In the short term, we run a risk with this decision, but in the long term, this decision is better than offering two types of products in the supermarkets, the one organic and the other conventional. It creates confusion for the consumer.”

The vegetable processor from Giessen in Brabant, with an annual net turnover of more than 100 million euros, operates based on enlightened self-interest, Hoogeboom makes clear. “We are worried about the fields. We are seeing an increase in less nutritious and less resilient crops. Now that politicians have come up with an action plan, this is momentum for us to address our concerns about soil depletion and crop quality.”

Organic sugar beet

Hak needs three thousand hectares of additional land for the plan, which will be implemented in stages. From this autumn, the vegetable and legume producer will only sell organic beetroot, next year will follow sauerkraut and kale, the year after sprouts and finally it will be the turn of green peas and red cabbage. Hoogeboom assumes that the operation will be successful and that there will be sufficient supply from the field farmers. Hoogeboom: “Communication with farmers and the government has been disastrous in recent years. In the end, farmers worry about the continuity of their business. We provide compensation to farmers who switch from conventional arable farming to organic farming; to organic farmers who want to produce more; and for farmers to cultivate new farmland that becomes available, for example by converting cattle to pasture. The nitrogen crisis offers great opportunities in this regard.”

Hak has a share of just under 38 percent in the market for freshly processed vegetables, and hopes to contribute around 10 percent to the transition to organic farming in the Netherlands. According to the company itself, it is a logical step; Previously, the vegetables already complied with a sustainability quality label, On the way to PlanetProof. By meeting the criteria for this quality label, the glass jars and stand-up bags have become slightly more expensive in recent years. “About 5 to 10 cents per jar,” says Hoogeboom. The switch to organic production will also cause prices to rise. The question then is whether the customers in the supermarkets are prepared to pay it. Hoogeboom: “We want to get organic food from the exclusive corner. We are not blind to people who can barely get by these days. So we have to keep it affordable. But the price of a product is ultimately determined not by us, but by the supermarkets.”

Hak wants to stimulate demand for organic vegetables by keeping the price as low as possible; by campaigning on the usefulness and necessity of organic food; and by only offering consumers the organic variant. “We think consumers understand that. People already pay a little more for our products than for others because of our image and reputation. We have not started selling less. We are a healthy company.”

How good is eating canned vegetables really for the planet? “The very best thing is to eat from our own vegetable garden according to the seasons,” admits CEO Hoogeboom. But in second place, according to him, is eating vegetables that are immediately preserved or frozen after harvest. Hoogeboom: “Many vegetables that are fresh in the supermarket do not come from the Netherlands in most months of the year, but from far abroad. It is not sustainable.”

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