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The Netherlands: BioFach 2015 country of the year

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Every year at the beginning of May the heart of the Netherlands is engulfed by a rush of colour, with many square miles north of Amsterdam blooming with tulips, narcissi and hyacinths that captivate visitors from every corner of the planet with their beauty. Among the bulb and cut flower growers there are organic producers, who sell their products all over the world. The Netherlands is an export-oriented country – and this doesn’t just apply to flowers, but also to other industries such as the food sector. The country’s organic industry has developed into a professional partner for both national and international companies in wholesale or retail. Reason enough to be presented as the BioFach country of the year from from 11–14 February 2015. The world’s leading trade fair for organic food has seen 2,263 exhibitors and 42,445 visitors celebrating in fitting fashion when the fair took place for the 25th time in 2014.

(Picture: the expansion is going on with the modern EkoPlaza organic supermarket chain) 

According to provisional estimates by Bionext, an umbrella organisation in Zeist (NL) for the Dutch organic industry, the turnover generated from organic food in the Netherlands increased to €1.07bn in 2013. Bavo van den Idsert, Bionext’s director, believes the growth probably equates to 6-8 % in the organic sector as a whole and 9 % just in natural food specialist stores. In the Netherlands itself, natural food specialist stores are the second most important after food retailers when it comes to the sale of organic products. In 2012, for example, conventional supermarket chains achieved 55 % of the turnover, while specialist stores enjoyed a share of 30 %.The restaurant industry accounted for 8 % and other sales channels such as weekly markets, farm-gate sales and Internet stores for 7 %. (Picture: Natuurwinkel market in Amsterdam)

The most important suppliers for natural food retailers are the wholesalers Udea, Natudis and Odin, and all three of these have their own natural food specialist stores or a franchise system as well. Udea is experiencing the greatest momentum in the market at the moment. The wholesaler saw an increase of nearly 22 % last year, a jump from 74 million to 90 million EUR. Besides EkoPlaza, Udea delivered to 500 other natural food shops, chemists, local country suppliers and restaurants in 2013, but did not deliver to any conventional supermarket chains. Udea is owned by Erik Does and Erik-Jan van den Brink. The two have worked together since 1995 and merged their wholesale warehouses in 1999 in Veghel, a town of 40,000 residents. The 67 EkoPlaza stores generate a total turnover of 100 million EUR and about half of these belong to Udea, whose headquarters are in Veghel, which is situated in the south of Holland between s’Hertogenbosch and Eindhoven. The easily accessible town is also home to warehouses of numerous food store chains. New stores are set to open in Capelle aan den IJssel, Haarlem, Leidschendam and The Hague this year, while another seven sales outlets are being expanded. (Picture: organic butchery in Amsterdam)

Natuurwinkel has its own franchise system. Odin is creating a chain of its own too called Estafette. 115 of the 365 natural food specialist stores and health shops in the Netherlands are currently provided by Udea, Natudis or Odin, making the proportion just under one third. Natudis, which now belongs to Dutch group Wessanen, supplies approximately 9,000 items to 500 natural food specialist stores in the Netherlands and Belgium. 30 Natuurwinkel stores are tied to the Harderwijk-based wholesaler by its franchise system. There were about 60 of these stores a few years ago, but most of the other 30 have now switched to EkoPlaza. Odin, which is a natural food wholesaler headquartered in Geldermalsen, prioritises Demeter goods. As the third of the three wholesalers mentioned, Odin has started to build up its own trade channel to increase sales and there are currently 18 stores under the name Estafette. Odin was actually already familiar to many outside of Netherlands over ten years ago because of its extremely successful subscription vegetable delivery service which covered over 30,000 households. (Picture: the wholesaler Natudis belongs to Wessanen)

One of the key areas of Dutch organic production is cheese making. Of a turnover of 1.7 billion EUR generated by the cheese production industry as a whole, 26 million EUR comes from organic production. One of the most well-known exporters is Bastiaansen, a cheese dairy west of s’Hertogenbosch. It supplies to German specialist stores via natural food wholesalers, but organic dairy products are currently enjoying a surge in popularity in the Netherlands as well.

(Picture: organic milk at the chain Albert Hejn)

In 2012 the turnover from items in this category rose by 11 % to a total of €218m, which equates to almost 5 % of the organic market. This is very good compared to meat and sausages, whose market share is just 2.7 %. The market share occupied by organic products in the Dutch food sector is growing, but at 3.2 % it was still a little behind Germany (3.9 %) in 2013 and leader Switzerland, where the figure was 6.9 %. Holland has a long tradition of trade, and this includes the organic sector.

Back to the tulips! The tulip bulbs played an important role in the past in the Netherlands, and in the second half of the 16th century they fetched extraordinarily  high prices. It was the period of the ‘tulip mania’ that made many breeders and merchants very rich in a short space of time. Since those days, although the prices have fallen significantly and tulips are affordable now for everyone, this fascinating flower has lost none of its popularity. Over the last decade, a group of organic breeders has become established in the flower bulb business. They include Peter Timmerman and other organic breeders who formed the Dutch Growers Association Biobol, with Jan Timmerman on the management board. The sought-after bulbs are both marketed directly abroad and sold via partners in the international wholefood trade. One of these outlets is Bio-Center Zann in Rotterdam. The company uses wholesalers in Germany to supply the specialist retail trade not only with fruit, vegetables and dairy products but, in the spring and summer, with flower bulbs and cut flowers too. (Picture: In the flower field of the Timmerman family)

From very early on, companies near the sea began to take advantage of of the convenient maritime transport connections to countries all around the globe. The ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam are key hubs for importers and exporters, and well-known producers such as Eosta, Tradin and Do-it very ably supply not only the domestic market with organic goods and commodities, but also the rest of Europe. Eosta in particular has made a name for itself in the industry, thanks to sustainability initiatives like Nature & More and Soil & More. The quantity of exported Dutch organic products actually increased by 10 % in 2013 compared to the previous year.

The Dutch organic market has a lot of potential in general, and Mr van den Idsert is therefore optimistic about the future. He said: “More and more consumers are shopping at natural food stores and organic supermarkets, because that’s where the widest range of organic products and health-oriented items is. Domestically grown products are also becoming increasingly popular.” Bionext expressly welcomes the activities concerning quality assurance and risk-based checks that are carried out by the two manufacturers’ associations VBP (Netherlands) and Aoel (Germany). Mr van den Idsert said, “There are also a large number of projects that are optimising quality through measures such as the introduction of fair trade for animal feed, improved local supplying with protein animal feed, and the further development of biodiversity and nature conservation standards.” He went on to say that other topics currently being focused on include the acceleration of organic seed development, residue monitoring and the continuous further development of quality assurance systems for organic food. The Netherlands has plenty of expertise in this area too. (Picture: traditional health food store)

Useful links:


Bio-Monitor – Numbers, data, facts on the organic sector in the Netherlands are available here.
(Data of 2013 is expected in June 2014) 

Store directory of the wholesalers EkoPlaza, Natuurwinkel, Odin:




Organic flowers:






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