COOPERATIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS SUSTAINABLE ENTREPRENEURSHIP

The word “cooperative” means working together.

This is what the fruit and vegetable producers do. Instead of selling their products on the local and international markets individually, the mainly family-owned businesses have grouped themselves together and formed cooperatives.

TOGETHER

The cooperative is a business model that is defined by democratic decision-making. Membership is voluntary and open. The cooperative members, who maintain their autonomy and independence, are co-owners and have a say in the management of the cooperative.

Cooperative collaboration has been a rising trend across different sectors over the last few years. However, in our fruit and vegetable sector, it has been around for a long time. With us, the cooperative spirit is structurally embedded, and offers a wide array of benefits. Though it is sometimes a challenge to convince everybody of this.

STRONG

Typically, a cooperative will not strive for profit. Rather, it will look to maximise its goal, namely getting their member-producers a fair price for their products. Jointly approaching the markets gives producers more leverage.

The clock auction system plays an important role in the cooperatively organised fruit and vegetable sector in Belgium. Freshly delivered products are immediately put on offer and sold at the price they are valued at when the clock counts down. In this way, we are able to guarantee fresh, safe and sustainable fruit and vegetables.

The advantages of working in cooperatives

Advice

The VBT cooperatives advise their producers when it comes to production and sales planning to ensure the offer matches demand.

Quality control

The VBT cooperatives oversee the correct application of quality systems and handle quality control procedures before, during and after  harvest.

Logistics

In conjunction with producers’ activities, storing, sorting and packaging can also be done through the cooperatives. In doing so, a substantial amount of the logistical workload is taken over by the cooperatives.

Market know-how

The VBT cooperatives share their market knowledge with member-producers and stimulate innovation on many levels.

Brands and quality labels

The VBT cooperatives create strong brands. In association with the VBT, the Responsibly Fresh collective sustainability label was added. Joint initiatives for the benefit of market support.

In good and bad times

Of course, the VBT cooperatives do everything in their power to win as much of the national and international markets as possible for their members. But, just as it’s the case now for the entire agricultural sector, the horticultural sector is under pressure. The search for alternative outlets isn’t always that easy. But the strength of the cooperatives helps the sector through periods of hardship.

The horticultural sector is under pressure

Price war

Price pressures are increasing following increased competition in the distribution sector that aims to provide its consumer base with quality products at as cheap a price as possible. Fresh produce plays a key role in attracting consumers to retail outlets.

Climate

Climatological events like drought, heavy rain, hail and frost strongly influence fruit and vegetable production. The sector will have to adapt to these changing conditions.

Crises and conflicts

Economic crises and political conflicts can  reduce export opportunities. In such cases, the sector can find itself sitting on remaining product from one day to the next, with prices plummeting as a result.

The socio-economic weight of the horticultural sector

Turnover

The turnover of the VBT horticultural cooperatives was 944 million Euro in 2017, with two thirds of sales coming from vegetables and one third from fruit. In Flanders, 12% of agricultural and horticultural businesses are specialised in fruit and vegetables production. They represent 17% of the total agricultural and horticultural turnover.

Export

The whole of the agricultural sector is responsible for 6% of Belgian exports. In 2017, the total export turnover for fresh vegetables was 827 million Euro. For fresh fruit, it was 662 million Euro. The most important export markets remain Belgium’s neighbouring countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Employment

The horticultural sector is an important employer. Producers alone employ 9400 people. On top of that, seasonal labour needs roughly 53200 labourers during harvesting season.