Healthy growth in 2023 for growers cooperative FruitMasters

At its annual General Meeting on Thursday, May 23, in Geldermalsen, the fruit growers’ cooperative FruitMasters announced positive financial results for 2023. Despite challenging economic conditions, the cooperative achieved healthy growth, with turnover exceeding €300 million for the first time. The cooperative returned dividends to its members for the year 2023 totalling €1.1 million.

To stimulate further growth, in 2023, FruitMasters introduced its ambitious ‘Healthy Growth 2030’ strategy. This plan serves as a roadmap for developing a future-proof organisation that maintains a strong resource function and a market-oriented sales strategy at its core, and is capable of agile responses to a rapidly changing marketplace. The approach focuses on growing commercial activities responsibly while simultaneously improving returns for its members, whose profitability is under pressure due to significant cost increases. Cost control, continuing automation, and digitisation are essential for generating further savings. In January 2024, Carin van Huët was appointed chief financial officer, completing the board of directors.

FruitMasters management team, comprising Carin van Huët & Adriaan Vis

Investing in the central service centre

An important cornerstone of the strategy is the large-scale construction project, ‘The Master Plan’. Efficiency, cost savings, sustainability and scalability are the way forward. Therefore, FruitMasters is investing in automation, robotisation and centralising operational activities within a single closed cold chain at the Geldermalsen site. Construction, which began in spring 2023, is progressing well and is scheduled for completion in early 2025. The expansion and modernisation will enable the organisation to better meet customer-specific requirements and ensure availability, aiming to provide the highest level of service and returns for growers and trading partners.

Left: first pile driven by growers. Right: Master Plan progress, May 2024.

Market insights

Delivering outstanding service is essential in a global market undergoing significant and rapid change. On the demand side, the market continues to consolidate. Due to this consolidation, there is a need for reliable partners with sufficient product availability. With a view to further chain cooperation, FruitMasters made significant progress by strengthening existing strategic partnerships and forging new ones at home and abroad. This effort has yielded sustainable growth across all markets. On the supply side, following disruptions in 2022 caused by the war in Ukraine, a positive trend is now visible, with an optimistic market outlook for many product groups. Despite a mild summer with substantial rain, the heat at the end of the season resulted in surprisingly early picking times. Soft fruit production started slowly, partly due to a cold, wet spring with frequent frosts. Heated strawberry cultivation was affected by gas prices that were still relatively high in the spring. Fortunately, the market remained relatively stable. Difficulties in protecting crops mean that cultivation remains challenging. Significant insect damage resulted from prevention that was either inadequate or implemented too late. As the Netherlands’ largest fruit growers’ cooperative, FruitMasters calls on the government to engage in dialogue and collaborate to find a solution to ensure the future of Dutch fruit cultivation. All these efforts offer growers a promising future perspective and encourage them to adopt even more sustainable cultivation methods without jeopardising our food supply.

Collaboration and innovation

Last year, FruitMasters also announced that it was exploring a potential collaboration with Coöperatie Hoogstraten. Possible forms of cooperation will be further explored in the coming months. BioMasters has been operating exclusively under the FruitMasters banner since autumn 2023. This integration aims to develop a ‘Best in Organics’ platform focused on research, new varieties, and marketing for organic products. A group of enthusiastic growers has already joined the initiative. The first year without auction sales has shown that the longer trading hours and improved service provided by a wholesaler lead to stable growth. Furthermore, significant strides have been made with the market-oriented variety portfolio. For example, the Wurtwinning variety was recently launched in the hard fruit category under the brand name Bloss®. Also, our ‘Best of Berries’ soft fruit innovation programme boasts several promising varieties that will be marketed for the first time in 2024.

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