“We make tomatoes look trendy”
Each year, the economic weekly Trends rewards the fastest growing firms of Belgium. After being already chosen as the ambassador of its own province, Den Berk Délice of the city of Merksplas, made it to the first place at the national event in Brussels Expo. “It is an honour that we did not expect at all”, says the sales manager Paul Van de Mierop. “This is great for us, but above all we are glad that our ambassadorship allows us to shed a positive light on our sector.”
In collaboration with the provinces and the Chambers of Commerce, the weekly Trends makes a chart of growing businesses, using parameters such as the absolute and percentage growth of turnover, staff and cash flow. The company coming up first in this ranking, becomes the Trends Gazelles Ambassador for one year.
Ambassadors are role models
Gazelles – extremely fast-growing companies – are very important to Voka – Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kempen: they are a source of innovation, they create jobs and are often inspiring role models to other younger businesses. “We are very proud to have a company like Den Berk Délice in our region”, says Renilde Craps, managing director of the Chamber. “This forward-looking tomato producer was the host at our New Year’s event in December last year and we could already tell Den Berk Délice’s very innovative way of working contrasted with the traditional nature of the sector. The company focusses on concepts that contribute to the ultimate tomato experience, on taste and quality, on partnerships and on internationalisation. They are an inspiring example for other entrepreneurs and an appropriate Trends Gazelles Ambassador. I hope that Den Berk Délice will continue to develop its activities in a conscious, innovative, smart and sustainable way and that it will act as a model to other companies. In this way, it will continue to contribute to the economic growth and prosperity of our region.”
Attention to the sector
At Den Berk Délice, they are particularly delighted by the attention it brings to the sector. “This ambassadorship allows us to show that we are so much more than just some local farmers”, says Paul Van de Mierop. “In our sector, we work hard and innovation is not a hollow shell. This reward will certainly change the image of our industry. We received a lot of compliments when winning the provincial Gazelle award and it will surely happen again this time. In any case, this success will urge us to keep on developing our activities.”
Den Berk Délice is a partnership between four tomato growers sharing the same vision of the future, with the focus on innovation, sustainability and producing high-quality and tasty tomatoes. The story of this partnership began in 2006, when Luc Beirinckx and Koen Lauwerysen – two horticulturists’ sons with fifteen years of experience running their own tomato nurseries and both businessmen with ambitious extension plans – decided to start a new business together (Den Berk), which they would run beside their own nursery. The duo bought a 26 hectare land in Merksplas, on which an impressive greenhouse facility was built. In 2015, Den Berk merged with the founders’ nurseries and with the company of a third grower, Hans Van Gool, creating the 42 hectare Den Berk Délice. The company will be going over 50 hectare by 2018.
Given the recent revolution in the tomato industry with a bunch of new varieties and concepts, specialisation has become a must. That is why the company devotes itself to producing high-quality tomatoes as cherry tomatoes and small snack tomatoes. “Some years ago, grape tomatoes dominated the market whereas they only represent 5 % of our offer today”, explains Paul Van de Mierop. “Nowadays, consumers are not only looking for taste and quality, but also for good-looking products. And this is also the case for tomatoes. It is a quite recent phenomenon but one that happened very quickly. Tomatoes are now very trendy. It is therefore a real challenge to have the right types at any time of the year. You cannot act flexible enough when you are alone on the market. It is precisely by the four companies working together that Den Berk Délice is able to offer a well-considered range of types and can specialise further. Specialisation means that Den Berk Délice has to make the right choices. “We have to pay close attention to consumers and retailers, have a good relation with seed companies which develop the new types and buy the right seeds at the right moment”, explains Paul Van de Mierop. “And then we try to get the exclusivity on a type. We test around a hundred of new types each year. These are selected on taste in the first place, but other parameters are also taken into account, such as the colour, the quality and the sustainability. Each type is tested under light. This way, we keep on innovating and getting better.”
“A trendy product also needs to be packed into a pretty and functional package. It is not enough to just put our products into stores, it has to stand out. We keep on thinking about new concepts and we work together with a creative agency to develop them. Our products are available in any size and shape: from flow packs to one person shakers and buckets.”
“Den Berk Délice would like to become the fresh retail partner. It is therefore important to never stop looking for ways to improve and to innovate. That is how, last year, Miss Perfect was chosen to be the tastiest tomato of Norway. Nevertheless, we keep on investing in improving its taste. In the end, standing still equals regression. As the category of fresh fruit and vegetables evolves quite rapidly, it is important for our retail partners to be part of this evolution. We think together about the category and we want to develop it in collaboration with the retailer. The fact that the two parties can benefit from it is the key to a long-term partnership. We also invest a lot in research and development, so we can always give the right information and expertise, not only in our country, but also and most importantly abroad.
The concept of Den Berk Délice is doing great. Nowadays, the company – which is a member of the Cooperative Hoogstraten – supplies mostly directly to retailers. Den Berk Délice delivers all supermarkets in Belgium and has good sales in Germany. Its tomatoes can also be bought in England and in several Scandinavian countries. “The advantage of directly supplying retailers is that we can make good agreements”, explains Paul Van de Mierop. “The size of our business allows us to supply tomatoes in big and homogeneous volumes. The Belgian market is too small for our production. At the moment, we supply 25 % of our total production to Belgian supermarkets. Internationalisation is very important for us. We do not want to serve all supermarkets in one country, but we are looking for top retailers sharing our vision. This is the perfect recipe for a great partnership.”