Entrepreneurship is hallmark of the TB&S company, located in The Netherlands. The company originated twenty years ago from a merger between the family businesses Timmerman-Bergen and Swager.
“We were in danger of becoming each other’s competitors, so we decided to go together. Then you have two winners,” says Dirk Swager, who runs the company together with Michel Timmerman, Gert-Jan Kroon and his brothers Coen and Gerben.
The company now grows 300 hectares of pointed cabbage in North Holland and another 35 hectares of outdoor crops of smaller lettuce varieties such as little gem, Romaine lettuce and pak choi.
It doesn’t stop there, because the company also has another 250 hectares of butternut and 200 hectares of pointed cabbage in Alpiarca in Portugal. The company keeps 100 employees working at both locations all year round.
Pioneers in Portugal
Dirk sees the fact that TB&S is a family business primarily as an advantage. “I want to win from my brothers. We all have that and you get a healthy competition to do things better. We do meet every two weeks on Monday evening to keep the faces in the same direction.
Nothing is more annoying than frustrations that are not spoken.
And beautiful things come from those meetings. On a Monday evening, for example, we decided to provide our customers with a year-round visit to Portugal to grow ourselves. We have started pioneering on 7 hectares. Look at what has now been rolled out for a company there.”
An important lesson from Swager: don’t keep doing what the previous generation has always done, but keep anticipating new market developments. “Thirty years ago my brother and I grew potatoes and flower bulbs and we had some cabbage in the cold store. If it had been the potato and bulb season, we would be waiting at home for someone to call you to buy cabbage. We soon saw that this had no future and so we started looking for solidity in year-round work. “
Only company in Europe with pointed cabbage year-round
“When we merged, we still grew half of red and white cabbage and half of pointed cabbage, but we have now completely stopped growing white and red cabbage.
The purchasing behavior of consumers is changing and the sale of unprocessed cabbage is certainly stagnating within the younger generation in the Netherlands. Thirty years ago, pointed cabbage was still a new vegetable and we have rolled it out nicely over the years. Today we are the only company in Europe that supplies pointed cabbage all year round,” Dirk says.
The current pointed cabbage season has gone reasonably according to the grower. “Sales started a little later and we therefore close the season of the 2019 harvest two weeks later,” says Dirk.
TB&S manages the sale entirely and largely works ahead based on weekly prices. “With that we remain really dependent on the supply and demand on the market.”
Violetti: summer and winter vegetables together
A new development occurred when the breeding company Hazera approached TB&S seven years ago to test the new purple pointed cabbage in cultivation. The entrepreneurs were happy with that and meanwhile the purple cabbage is being marketed under the name Violetti. “Violetti is a normal pointed cabbage, crossed with a red cabbage. The vegetable is a bit softer and sweeter than the normal pointed cabbage and has the colour of the red cabbage.
You can easily wok it and because it does not bleed, it is also ideal for the salad. This way you have summer and winter vegetables at the same time! “
Dirk: “The trick is to grow a good point on it, otherwise the Violetti is still compared to red cabbage. The necessary craftsmanship is involved.” The Violetti has now found its way into the German and Scandinavian shelves, while the Dutch retail is still making a reservation. The grower blames this on the large selection of fresh produce on the shelves. “Vegetable departments are completely full and do not dare to introduce a new product again.”
Nevertheless, the grower persists. “It will be the West-Frisian stubbornness, but we will also get the Violetti on the shelf in the Netherlands,” laughs Dirk. “The white pointed cabbage was not just on the plate either. That is why we put a lot of energy into the promotion. We do this at events such as the Margriet Winterfair, Libelle Summer Weeks and the Horecava. If I get the chance, I will go and build a nice shelf in the store myself, with recipe brochures and other promotional material. The consumer must ask for it. It is important that we collect sales data. I am convinced that we can convince the supermarkets with that. “
The Violetti is already used by Dutch cutting companies to offer the product pre-cut in certain mixes.
“For white pointed cabbage, that is more difficult for us, because then cutting companies often opt for the less tasty, but cheaper, industrial varieties,” Dirk explains. “With Violetti, a cutting plant will have some distinctive features in house. We are also seeing increasing demand in Portugal for the cut variance and that was not the case there a few years ago.”
“That is how we continue to do our best to improve our business every day. Last year, 4,000 solar panels were installed on our premises, allowing us to work completely energy-neutral and we invested in a new pumpkin washer for the Portuguese location. In the coming season we will again focus on a test with automatic cabbage planter.
We implement all these changes to transfer a wonderful company to the next generation. And time will tell whether they earn a living with pointed cabbage or Violetti. But I hope that they will continue to innovate and respond to consumer demand, just like we do.”
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