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Denmark: Aarstiderne - a recipe for success

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

In 1999, farmer Thomas Harttung and chef Søren Ejlersen joined forces to develop a basic wooden box that would connect consumers to farmers with fresh organic fruits and vegetables, along with ideas and cooking recipes. The entrepreneurs wanted to share their passion for good food and nutrition, while offering the convenience of Internet shopping. They began with a small network of friends and family. The concept became Aarstiderne, meaning “seasons” in Danish. The formula worked. Soon more consumers were attracted, eager to receive fresh foods and delicious recipes, all tested by the team. Today, the box scheme not only delivers to all over Denmark but belongs to the biggest organic delivery services in Europe. 
(Picture: Krogerup, one of the three farms managed by Aarstiderne)

Aarstiderne has become a successful virtual supermarket, selling online and delivering boxes with fresh produce and groceries weekly to 45,000 customers across Denmark, and some areas in Sweden and north of Germany.  The produce comes mainly from three farms they operate: Billelsund, partly owned and partly rented from a farmer; Krogerup, near Copenhagen, rented from the government; and Barritskov, privately owned by co-founder Harttung. A network of about 15 farmers in Denmark, three in Sweden and two in Germany have joined the project. The boxes are all packed at Barritskov and then shipped to hubs, from where they are distributed in smaller vans. (Picture: Søren Ejlersen, co-founder and Vice Chairman of Aarstiderne)

Besides fresh produce the boxes include imported juices and some other goods to add variety. “We have a close cooperation with Cal Valls in Spain and Côtaux Nantais in France,” says CEO Annette Hartvig Larsen. Although Aarstiderne relies largely on local sources, in the winter months around 65 % of its supply comes from France, Italy and Spain, with a few items imported from Latin America.

In 2001, Aarstiderne accounted for 7 % of all organic sales in Denmark. That year, the Triodos Venture Capital Fund became a financial partner, with a 20 % stake in the project. Triodos loaned the firm 3 million euros for two years to further develop operations. In 2005, the company had 90 full-time employees and reported an annual turnover of 20 million euro, 35 million Euro in 2009. “Currently, the company delivers 120,000 boxes per month, has 120 employees, 35 farmers and 65 indirect contractors and drivers employed by independent delivery firms,” says Anette Hartvig Larsen.

And the key to their success? Thinking inside the box, literally. This means paying close attention to each ingredient and offering consumers carefully designed lunch and dinner menus and nutritious, easy-to-pack snacks for busy professionals, parents and children. The team has been able to remain flexible and understands the importance to adapt to the changing needs of the customers and their interests. In 2005, it offered a range of 700 organic certified fresh and processed groceries, allowing customers to add or remove items according to preference. Today, they stick to the 200 most popular products and no longer offer individual packing, according to Annette Hartvig Larsen. “With a 100-hectare organic garden, we may follow the whole process from seed to harvesting and aim to always deliver the most fresh, interesting and surprising products to the customers. We give them what they did not know they wanted, but they end up loving. (Picture: Mogens Biune a consultant affiliated to Aarstiderne shows his box for that week)

At Aarstiderne, boxes are ordered online and are delivered weekly. The Aarstiderne website was designed to be user-friendly to ensure the best visitor experience, running with a stable and secure system. The website handles customers, products, orders and deliveries using an advanced solution based on the Sitecore Content Management System, integrated with Aarstiderne’s Microsoft Business Solutions Navision system. The website has increased sales, allowing efficient coordination between the company, suppliers and customers. With the automated system, the company can handle more than 7,500 calls and as many e-mails monthly from Denmark and Sweden. Clients can access information about the farm, products and recipes, and visitors can subscribe and select their weekly pre-packed box.

In 2003, won the ITbusiness’ e-commerce prize and has established itself as one of the most advanced e-commerce companies in Denmark. The system development meant an investment of more than 270,000 euros, but the high level of automation frees employees for other duties. Customers have the flexibility to shop when they want, and can order a box for the coming week up to the preceding Sunday at midnight. Although the firm has one store to serve visitors who take part in health and wellness-related activities at the Krogerup farm, most sales come from the website, with goods mainly delivered to the customers.
(Picture: Shop at the Krogerup farm)

At Aarstiderne, there is a strong commitment to search for more efficient ways to reuse, reduce recycle and maintain the lowest carbon footprint possible. In an effort to reduce CO2 output, the company continually evaluates suppliers, packaging, energy consumption and logistics. “We try to be aware of the choices we make overall, but the biggest contributor will be the new Sterling engine pyrolysis plant,” says Annette Hartvig Larsen. “It will cover 65 % of the energy take at Barritskov, the farm where the fresh produce is packed in the boxes.” The BlackCarbon unit at Barritskov in Denmark is a CHP unit that converts biomass into biochar through pyrolysis, releasing bioenergy in the process. Aarstiderne co-founder Thomas Harttung, also chairman of the board, spearheaded the BlackCarbon and Greencarbon initiatives to promote the idea of large-scale CO2 sequestration in productive farming and forestry landscapes.

Aarstiderne also features “Garden to Stomach,” a popular school project that teaches local children about farming, cooperation, cooking and healthy eating. About 1,500 students participate every year, growing their own gardens, experiencing nature and cooking together. The children can visit anytime to keep an eye on their crops and check the weather at the farm. Family members are encouraged to help in the gardens during the summer. Companies send their employees to the Aarstiderne farm Krogerup for team-building and health and wellness workshops. Aarstiderne also serves corporate kitchens and restaurants and offers consulting services to transform conventional kitchens into organic workplaces. (Picture: Participants at the successful “Garden to Stomach” school program at Aarstiderne)

Aarstiderne’s successful business model offers a platform for exchange, creativity and connection between farmers and consumers, and provides young and old the opportunity to discover the relationship between food, nature and wellness. This is a place worth visiting, if you are looking for a successful recipe for delivering organic food sustainably in a large scale operation.


Organic-Market.Info thanks Adriana Michael for the article, which was published in Organic and Wellness News (OWN) in spring 2011.
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