04 Mar 2019

Sharing secrets from Europe

From convenience foods and technology that tracks consumer behaviour, to eco-friendly and ‘flavour’ packaging, there is a lot to learn from our counterparts in Europe, according to Nicky Mann of Family Fresh Farms who recently returned from an AUSVEG European Industry Leadership and Development Mission.

The two-week study tour kicked off in February and the group of 12 Australian growers visited major protected cropping growing regions and agribusinesses in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, including Rijk Zwaan’s trial demo centre for tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper, aubergine and squash in El Ejido, Almería. They also attended the Berlin Fruit Logistica.

The group stopped by Rijk Zwaan’s Seed Technology Centre in De Lier, The Netherlands, on 11 February for a guided tour of the facility. Nicky said witnessing the process and hearing about the logistics of seed production was “mind-blowing”.

“Sometimes when we grow one crop, we can get a bit insular. We tend to be isolated, focussing on one crop but it was incredible to see Rijk Zwaan’s scope and microscopic attention to detail,” she said. 

“The storage of seed and mechanical racking was impressive, particularly how everything is catalogued. You can see that there has been significant investment in getting things right in the background before we receive the seed. It was fascinating to see the lengths Rijk Zwaan goes to, to protect its seed and ensure its viability and purity.”

Nicky said another highlight of the trip was a visit Rijk Zwaan’s Retail Centre in Berlin. The Retail Centre houses an extensive product range in various displays and realistic store situations from around the world. The location is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies such as eye-tracking glasses that can monitor what attracts consumers’ attention as they shop.

“It was most interesting to see the science behind the shopper. We watched the eye-tracking glasses in action that highlighted shopper preferences. The future is here.”

Nicky, who also represents the Protected Cropping Australia organisation, is the Labour Manager and Work Health Safely Officer at Family Fresh Farms. At the five-hectare snack cucumber farm in Peats Ridge, NSW, Nicky oversees more than 100 staff. She was pleased to learn that Australia is exceeding the benchmark for labour efficiencies.

“I was searching for room for improvement but we are very, very competitive with our labour efficiencies – I didn’t see much better than what we are doing in terms of harvest speeds, crop lowering and so on. We are that much quicker and more efficient than our European counterparts.”

There are however, a few things her company will do differently following the trip.   

“The visit to Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands was absolutely brilliant – they talked about ‘tasty’ vegetables. They shared their research about consumer behaviour, which indicates that people not only purchase based on price and freshness, but flavour too.”

“Most companies don’t include anything about flavour on packaging but we now know how important this is to consumer choice – implementing this on our packaging is an easy and effective thing to do.”

Another valuable learning was the opportunities available in the convenience sector, which goes hand-in-hand with eco-friendly packaging.

“There are a lot more ready-to-eat meals using fresh produce, and bite-sized anything that can go in a salad. There’s a huge focus on value adding such as carrots shreds, carrot curls, broccoli and cauliflower rice.”

“At the same time, there are clever hygienic ways of displaying food that is eco-friendly – it was really inspiring – we need to pay more attention to packaging solutions and act now.”


AUSVEG European Industry Leadership and Development Mission