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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 COVID-19 pandemic has shocked society worldwide. In a matter of weeks , this crisis led to an unprecedented tidal wave of infections and fatalities and determined the political, social and economic agendas worldwide. In order to guarantee the supply of fruit and vegetables, exceptional performance has been achieved in 2020 throughout the food chain – albeit with a price tag. For example, producers and producer organizations have had to make extra efforts and costs to put their staff to work in a safe way, while effective productivity decreased. Nevertheless, we can say that the fruit and vegetable sector has put in an excellent performance during the covid pandemic. This is to the credit of the producers, the sorting companies and especially the staff, who have clearly proven their importance and added value over the past year.

The socio-economic weight of the horticultural sector


The turnover of the VBT horticultural cooperatives was 1078 million Euro in 2020, with two thirds of sales coming from vegetables and one third from fruit.

Although vegetable cultivation only takes up 5% of the Flemish agricultural surface, this sector realizes approximately 13% of the value of Flemish agricultural production.

Fruit cultivation only takes up about 3% of the Flemish agricultural area, yet the sector is responsible for 7% of the total production value. Almost 90% of the value of fruit production is accounted for by pears, strawberries and apples. Strawberries and especially pears are important export products.


The whole of the agricultural sector is responsible for 6% of Belgian exports.

In 2020, the total export value for fresh vegetables was EUR 825 million and for fresh fruit EUR 672 million. 

The most important export markets remain Belgium’s neighbouring countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.


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.