There are around 425 members of the FruitMasters cooperative, all of whom produce high quality fruit in accordance with the cooperative’s exacting standards and the demands of the market.
“We must produce what the market wants to buy,” insists Commercial Director Leonard Kampschöer, who has worked for FruitMasters since 1982. “We work to develop fruit varieties that will appeal to the eyes and palates of end consumers as well as meet the requirements of our customers with regard to shelf life and ease of handling.”
Fruit is a delicate, highly perishable product that in a normal northern European garden usually has a limited seasonal availability. However, consumer demand and expectation is for a constant supply of high quality, delicious fruit to be available to buy all year round.
“This is the big challenge for our growers, particularly in the soft fruit segment,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “However, advances in growing techniques have significantly extended the growing season while refrigerated storage means we can stockpile harvested fruit for sale throughout the year.”
FruitMasters sells a full range of apples, pears, berries, stone fruit, grapes and exotic fruits so that retailers can source virtually all of their fruit requirements from the cooperative. In the Dutch market, FruitMasters is known as one of the biggest cooperatives for apples in the country.
“We have been marketing apples for over 100 years,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “Over the years, we have become sought-after experts for everything to do with apple cultivation. In order to respond to changing consumer needs, we are always looking for innovative apple varieties and have introduced many new apple strains in that time.”
Examples are its Kanzi® and Greenstar ® apples. Both are hybrids of popular varieties that combine their best characteristics. Kanzi® was obtained by crossing Gala and Braeburn. The result is a uniform, crisp apple with a perfect shape, colour and size. It is particularly popular with retailers because of its excellent shelf life and attractive red blush.
Greenstar®, on the other hand, was obtained by crossing Delbare with Granny Smith. Greenstar® apples unite the juiciness and refreshing flavour of both parents. Other perennially popular varieties grown by the cooperative include Cox’s Orange Pippin, Pink Lady, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Elstar, Jonagold, Royal Gala and Red Prince.
FruitMasters has also brought its breeding expertise to bear on the pear market. In 2016, it launched Migo®, a new pear variety that has enjoyed phenomenal success. Migo® is the perfect pear for people on the go. Its firm flesh and sweet, refreshing taste both keep well, ensuring no mess.
“Migo® pears rival apples for their transportability and allow consumers to enjoy their sweetness wherever they are,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “The rapid retail success of Migo® pears means that we will be expanding their cultivation. 420,000 trees have already been planted and production is well underway.”
Migo® pears join a well-established programme that includes locally-grown favourites such as Conference, Comice and Saint Remy as well as imported varieties such as Abate Fetel, Anjou, Guyot and Packham.
The soft fruit season has traditionally been a short one, kicking off with strawberries in early June and ending with blackberries in September. However, thanks to innovative new cultivation methods and imports from warmer climes, FruitMasters is able to supply a wide selection of soft fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and whitecurrants to its customers virtually all year round.
The same goes for stone fruit, which have a particularly short shelf life. Plums and cherries grow in abundance in the Dutch region of De Betuwe, where FruitMasters is based, and they are supplemented by peaches and nectarines imported from southern Europe.
To cover demand for grapes, FruitMasters relies on imports from countries with a mild or Mediterranean climate, such as South Africa, Chile, India, Spain, Argentina, Peru and Egypt while exotic and citrus fruits come from even further away.
“Oranges, lemons and grapefruit are not suitable for growing in the Dutch climate which is why we have to import them,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “However, we ensure that all of our importers conform to the same high standards as our local producers here in the Netherlands.”
Although the members of the cooperative are not certified organic producers, the growing policies adopted bring them very close. “All of our growers are committed to reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides to a minimum and use cultivation methods that minimize the need for chemical interventions. Our soft fruit is grown under plastic on raised shelves so that crops such as strawberries are clear of the ground and kept dry and clean. This also greatly facilitates harvesting”.
The harvested fruit is sorted, graded, packaged and dispatched to customers from the cooperative’s central warehouse in Geldermalsen. Using a highly sophisticated digital camera-based quality assurance system, each apple and pear is approved for size, colour, weight and external and internal quality before packaging.
Soft fruit and berries are sorted by hand while FruitMasters also has three sorting machines for plums, cherries and blueberries. “As well as ensuring that our customers are assured of receiving fruit of the highest quality, our facilities also meet the stringent hygiene and food safety requirements of the BRC and IFS certification bodies,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “However, fruit that does not meet the standards of retailers is not wasted. Misshapen or blemished produce is sold to convenience food producers and industrial processors.”
Half of FruitMaster’s 200 million EUR annual turnover is generated from exports, mainly to Europe but also to Asia and the Middle East. “Our customers value the reliability and consistency of our service,” says Mr. Kampschöer. “Many of them have been with us for years and value the fact that they can rely on us to deliver the quantities they need in the right quality.”
Satisfied customers are just one part of the equation for FruitMasters. The other side are the producers. “Our job as a cooperative is to keep everyone happy,” says Mr. Kampschöer in conclusion.