Broad assortment of organic products appeals to grocery retailers

Every day, Belgian wholesaler BioVibe supplies organic fruit and vegetables to customers within a large radius of its base in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. “Food retailers appreciate our flexibility and wide choice. After experiencing a sharp rise at the start of the pandemic, the growth in demand for organic vegetables has now stabilised. The demand for organic fruit is still increasing, however,” says Johan Vanhaeren, one of BioVibe’s four owners.

BioVibe is a real family business, run by brothers Johan, Erwin and Ive and their father André. BioVibe also comprises the 60-hectare production company called Biovan, which grows organic vegetables including pumpkins, radishes, celeriac and various kinds of brassicas. Johan Vanhaeren: “My father and grandfather first started growing organic produce back in 1976, so my brothers and I are the third generation of the family. We founded the BioVibe wholesale business in 2013. Sales of organic produce weren’t going well, so we decided to do it ourselves. When other growers heard about our plans, they asked us to sell their products too and we rapidly became a sizable player in the market.”

“Other growers asked us to sell their products too”

From lettuce to celeriac
Today, BioVibe sells products sourced from around 80 to 90 organic growers – mainly fruit and vegetables from Belgium, but sometimes also produce grown in the Netherlands. “We’re specialised in open-field crops. We do sell products grown under glass from one supplier, but greenhouse companies often handle their own sales activities. In the spring, our range includes all kinds of lettuces, spinach, chervil, asparagus and summer fruits such as strawberries. Towards the end of the summer, we add apples and pears to our offering too. In the winter we have a wide choice of carrots, onions, celeriac, leeks and pumpkins. We generate an annual turnover of around eight million euros,” continues Vanhaeren.

Price negotiations
Growers deliver their products on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Retailers and wholesalers can buy the products six days a week, and the company serves an average of around 35 buyers a day. BioVibe conducts the price negotiations and takes care of the quality control, Vanhaeren explains: “We can also pack the products in line with the growers’ and retailers’ specific requirements, and we can provide our growing partners with crates and other packaging materials. We even give crop advice. We’ve been growing organic vegetables for 40 years, so we have lots of expertise.”

Demand for organics has stabilised
According to Johan Vanhaeren, there is a positive trend in the sale of organic fruit and vegetables: “In the early phase of the pandemic, we sold around 50% more organic fruit and vegetables than normal. The demand has evened off since then, but it’s still higher than the average. But while the demand for organic vegetables has stabilised now, revenue from apples and pears is still growing.”

“During the pandemic we’ve sold 50% more organic products”

Continuous availability
Vanhaeren is confident about the future of the organic sector in general and of BioVibe in particular. “Thanks to providing continuous availability of organic produce, we set ourselves apart from other wholesalers who only offer a limited choice of organics. It’s important that we continue to coordinate our range together with the other organic growers. That enables us to structurally offer grocery retailers a broad assortment and secure a better price for our products. Our strength lies in collaboration.”

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