The Westland is home to a growing, knowledge-intensive seed-breeding industry. Although this industry is very important to society, the new generation is largely unfamiliar with it. Rijk Zwaan is one of seed breeders in the food sector with a strong growth, and the company is joining forces with other fruit and vegetable companies to raise the sector’s profile among young people. For two days the Market Match initiative challenges students to come up with innovative ideas to help companies face challenges in the fruit and vegetable sector. Account Manager Maarten van der Leeden and Anneke van de Kamp, Head of Communication & Public Affairs, told us about Rijk Zwaan both as a vegetable breeder and as an employer.
What kinds of solutions will students come up with for future vegetable consumption?
As well as other efforts to raise the company’s visibility among school pupils, Rijk Zwaan also gives guest lectures at various schools, offers internships and hosts tours for high-school students who are about to choose their direction of study. ‘Many students have no idea what a seed-breeding company does, or the jobs it offers. They rarely think about what is involved in vegetable production. And city people often have a different view of vegetables than people in the sector. We’ve noticed that with some of our employees who come from Rotterdam,’ Van de Kamp explains.
By participating in Market Match, Rijk Zwaan seeks a connection with students and with the city itself. During this two-day event on 4 and 5 October, 200 students will be challenged to come up with creative ideas for the fruit and vegetable sector. ‘We are really looking forward to hearing innovative ideas. Students have a different perspective, because they think more freely. For example, what kinds of solutions will students come up with for our future vegetable consumption as a result of changing eating and purchasing habits?’ Van der Leeden wonders.
Westland and Rotterdam are becoming more connected
According to Anneke van de Kamp there was hardly any interaction between Westland and Rotterdam a few years ago. ‘The emergence of the Rotterdam Food Cluster brought many people from Rotterdam to Westland, and vice versa,’ Van de Kamp explains. Various municipalities also established connections. This offers many advantages for the food sector, but also for other sectors. For example, our research department exchanges knowledge with medical researchers at the Erasmus MC, We, for example, examine how healthy nutrition can help prevent illness. When people think of food, they often think about what it looks like on the shelf, rather than how it is made. Not many people know that melon varieties are bred at Rijk Zwaan, the seeds are then sold in South America and they eventually come back in the Port of Rotterdam as melons. That’s also good for employment in Rotterdam’, according to Van de Camp. Van der Leeden continues: ‘Our primary focus is on our growers, but we are also increasingly working with retailers and food services companies, because they have become an important link in the chain. Together with all our chain partners, we follow trends and take joint decisions about the range of products we offer.’
Rijk Zwaan acclaimed as Best Employer 2017/2018
Anneke van de Kamp talks with pride about how Rijk Zwaan was voted the best employer in the Netherlands last year in the Production & Industry category. ‘Our highest goal is to make sure our employees are happy and that they have sustainable employment. When you come to work for us, you have a job for life. We have an employee turnover of just 1%, because we first check to see whether a person is suitable for our company. Many professional fields are company-specific, so it takes many years for someone to become skilled. For example, if you work in seed breeding and you create a new aubergine, that can take anywhere between six and 16 years. So you have to be patient. Some employees spend their whole lives working on just a few varieties. That gives you a great boost. You can also develop your skills more broadly, and there are many international opportunities,’ Van de Kamp explains. Van de Kamp refers to a Rotterdam mentality, and Van der Leeden agrees: ‘You’re free to choose your own path. In the end, we are all entrepreneurs and we determine our own results.’
‘We’re really looking forward to hearing the innovative ideas of students during Market Match. ‘For example, what kinds of solutions will they come up with for our future vegetable consumption as a result of changing eating and purchasing habits?’Account Manager Rijk Zwaan
We are looking for 1,000 new employees over the next five years
The global population is growing, and the demand for vegetables is growing in line with this increase. This is also good for Rijk Zwaan’s growth. There are always around 80 job vacancies at the company. Over the next five years Rijk Zwaan is looking to employ over 1,000 new colleagues in various areas, particularly in research and ICT. They also offer a range of young professional programmes and internships, About 40% of the interns expected to continue working at Rijk Zwaan. You can view all the job openings here: https://www.rijkzwaancareers.com.
Global vegetable community
The rapid pace of developments in biotechnology and ICT have led to different working methods in sales and communications. ‘We’re developing online services to set up networks and share knowledge with partners around the world. One example is the community programme Love My Salad, which we set up to inspire people all over the world to eat more vegetables.’
From a problem to new vegetable varieties
Rijk Zwaan is a sustainable company by nature, because it is always developing new varieties that will even grow in conditions with the smallest possible amounts of water and pesticides. Market demand for healthy products with a smaller environmental footprint is also increasing. For the growing organic market even other varieties are bred. The employees see this as a challenge, as a food production puzzle for them to solve. ‘For example, we are looking for a gherkin that can be harvested by machines because of labour issues ,’ according to Van de Kamp. ‘Everyone enjoys thinking about this challenge.’ Maarten van der Leeden adds: ‘We’ve bred a variety of lettuce that stays green for a longer period after it has been cut, so it can also keep longer. This creates less waste in supermarkets. The lettuce is cross-bred many times until we find the perfect lettuce. In the end, it took four years to create a variety of lettuce that meets all the criteria, such as disease resistance, good flavour and feasible production. You add one more feature to the dozens of necessary features you’ve already identified. It’s a bit like the Olympic Games!’
About Rijk Zwaan
Rijk Zwaan is one of the ten largest vegetable breeders in the world. The family business is active in 30 countries and employs 3,000 persons. Vegetables are produced all over the world, and half of the seeds come from the Netherlands. The company has a turnover of over €400 million, 30% of which (€10 million every month) is invested in research. This research is mainly carried out in the Netherlands, as well as at seed-breeding locations in other countries such as France, Spain, Turkey and Tanzania.