Providing convenience products that include custom-cut fresh vegetables. That is what vanRijsingenfreshservice does. This Dutch company is constantly looking for new ideas to serve customers even better. “From small-scale and customer-specific wishes to developing products for an entirely new market,” begins business manager Marcel van Bruggen.
From potatoes to salicornia and everything in between – vanRijsingenfreshservice peels, slices, and packaging all kinds of fresh vegetables for the food industry. “We mostly process for bulk consumption. Our main clients are meal producers and snack and soup manufacturers, but also wholesalers.” They often use the vegetables for further processing.
Those are added to, for example, salads, vegetable mixes, meals, sauces, soups, snacks, and spreads, Marcel explains. “These producers use fresh vegetables to prepare their products, mainly for retail and food service. VanRijsingenfreshservice is BRC certified and may process PlanetProof and organic products and resell them as such,” explains Marcel
From commonplace to niche
vanRijsingenfreshservice began supplying processed vegetable products to companies in 1992. These are primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. “We provide the desired packaging units in specified, customized delivery frequencies. Volumes can fluctuate, but most of our work consists of fixed orders. We send out an average of 100,000 kg of processed goods a week.”
The cut vegetable range includes just about the entire segment. Onions, leeks, white cabbage, and carrots are the biggest items. Marcel says these vegetables account for about 80% of the total volume. “We process a lot of things like sweet potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms too.”
“And smaller products such as red chilies, oyster mushrooms, and various herbs. We also do niches like salicornia on customer demand. We don’t do lettuce, but we do process other leafy vegetables like endive and herbs. It sometimes takes some adjusting, but as long as we can do it, we don’t turn any orders down.”
“We offer processed, ready-to-use products. And they can all be supplied in different cuts and packaging. That ranges from 120 l drums, crates, and buckets to flowpack bags or smaller options. These include manually proceed brined vegetables. We prepare batches for several customers. That means we don’t mix but make a one-dish combination by adding different bags in one or more crates. We fill pallets of those. It saves clients a lot of time and reduces the chance of error in the factory,” says Van Bruggen.
Different kinds of vegetables in brine (onions, carrots, cucumber, leeks, and cabbage)
As local as possible
Where does vanRijsingenfreshservice get its vegetables? Marcel says they work mostly with fixed suppliers. And, where possible, they buy locally. Most of the leeks and carrots come from the De Schakel growers’ association. Its members count more than 500 vegetable growers in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. That, thus, offers the vegetable processor a great deal of security.
“We source cucumber locally and other large products directly from producers further away. The rest we get from wholesalers in the area. In that respect, we’re very conveniently located in an important production area. Our buyers have to deal with pressure from the retail sector. That’s why we try to buy as much as possible from and to limit ourselves to several regular suppliers.”
Sweet potatoes: a growth product
The company primarily works with permanent client orders. These are for daily or weekly suppliers of a fixed range of fresh, processed vegetables. Nonetheless, vanRijsingenfreshservice keeps a close eye on expansion and innovation. “For instance, sliced sweet potato – imported as well as Dutch-grown – is a true growth product,” continues Marcel.
“We, and several parties in the Netherlands, are trying to boost Dutch sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are already becoming a fixture in our assortment. But, there is such a vast price difference between imported and locally-grown products. Dutch sweet potatoes don’t stand a chance. We began processing sweet potatoes at a buyer’s request. There’s an increasing demand for this.”
Raw white cabbage
“By now, we’ve also gained quite a bit of experience in large sweet potato runs. We mainly supply sweet potatoes, both regular and organic, for fries. Or in cubes for use in snacks, soups, and meals. We have high expectations for this product. After all, this product is becoming increasingly popular. And more are being cultivated in the Netherlands,” Marcel says.
There is also a noticeable rise in demand for brined vegetables. Aside from the regular pickled onions, the company supplies more and more other vegetables in brine too. “White cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and leeks, for example, are well suited to this. There’s an increasing demand for fresh vegetables in brine.”
“Not only because of the longer shelf life. It also gives the products a different flavor and softens them a little. We have the machines and facilities in-house to further expand this range. This is a typical example of customized production, which we’re moving towards more and more,” says the business manager.
Product development for the hospitality industry and bulk use
As a result, Rijsingenfreshservice is focusing more on product development. There are some products in the pipeline that they want to introduce soon. “These are in response to the current need from the hospitality and wholesale sectors. The kitchen staff shortage is one of the important starting points.”
“We’ll soon focus more on convenience products to unburden businesses. That’s in addition to our current range. An example – dry pickled acar. This is an appealing product for eateries,” Marcel says. “Our pickled acar keeps for at least three months. Our dried acar, for two weeks. We’re planning on launching this product soon. If it’s successful, more similar products will follow.”
The leek line’s drainage belt
“Our business activities are, therefore, shifting. That’s aside from industrial vegetable processing, i.e., pushing high volumes. We’re increasingly engaged in smaller customer-specific products at the artisanal level. A nice development, which also fits in well alongside our daily fixed orders,” says Marcel.
Does vanRijsingenfreshservice experience peak times?
“We process fresh vegetables at a reasonably stable pace. We do regular orders for our biggest customers every day. And, we have fixed weekly and monthly clients. We often know what they want in advance. In the summer, for example, meal production always drops slightly.”
“Then more salads are made. When temperatures start to rise in northern Europe, it gets really busy. As soon as good weather is predicted, we get an influx of orders. The production of salads and the like for barbecuing then immediately takes off. Those are good, sometimes challenging, times.”
Where do the biggest challenges and opportunities lie?
“Sourcing can be concerning at times. We have to deal with factors like unpredictable weather conditions and rising transport costs. And we have to consider the ever-increasing costs of raw materials and labor. There are opportunities mainly in the areas of new products and product development. As far as that goes, we occupy a tough spot in the chain. We don’t produce directly for end customers. That, however, doesn’t faze us. We want to look ahead and explore new possibilities. And we certainly anticipate growth in that area.”
How have things been going recently?
“We don’t supply the hospitality sector directly. Nonetheless, we felt the pandemic’s effect too. Our foodservice clients’ demand declined sharply, but we sold more to retail-focused buyers. In time, sales to meal producers stabilized again.”
“COVID-19, thus, did affect us. But not in the extremes experienced by the hospitality suppliers. On average, we have more industrial retail customers. Nevertheless, we’re anxious to see what awaits us. A partial lockdown was announced [in the Netherlands] in early November. We immediately started getting fewer orders from a certain group of clients.”