Greenyard Foods now includes fresh produce group Univeg and agribusiness Peatinvest

Greenyard Foods now includes fresh produce group Univeg and agribusiness Peatinvest

Greenyard Foods is the fresh, canned and frozen vegetable group that was created through the merger of Greenyard, Univeg and Peatinvest earlier this year. The deal formed a vegetable processing behemoth with a global footprint and annual sales of EUR3.7bn (US$4.05bn). While the integration of the business is still a work in progress, the company is confident it can leverage growing vegetable consumption needs through its extended portfolio. Katy Askew caught up with Hans Luts, managing director of the group's Pinguin frozen business, to find out more.

Increased vegetable consumption has been recommended as a key component of a healthy diet. Higher vegetable intake has been linked to reduced chances of developing chronic diseases, from obesity to cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 16m disability-adjusted life years and 1.7m deaths worldwide are attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption each year. Moreover, insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14% of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11% of ischaemic heart disease deaths and about 9% of stroke deaths globally.

Organisations like the WHO have long championed increasing vegetable consumption to tackle some of the world's health problems. Various governments, facing spiralling healthcare spending and a jump in chronic disease in their populations, have also taken up the mantle.

Hans Luts, managing director of Greenyard Foods's Pinguin frozen vegetable business, believes the company can grow sales by championing higher vegetable consumption. "If you take the landscape in which we are at the moment we see a general under consumption of vegetables.... The main concern of governments is people should eat more healthy food. And vegetables are part of that," he tells just-food.

Speaking at the Anuga trade show in Cologne earlier this month, Luts says the merger of the canned, frozen and fresh operations of Greenyard Foods, Univeg and Peatinvest provides the combined company (which has adopted the Greenyard Foods name) with the ability to develop a more compelling proposition and help drive greater vegetable consumption. "The most important thing for us is that people need to eat more vegetables for health. If you combine fresh, canned and frozen I think you have a very strong story you can tell," he suggests. "If you look today there is a lot of investment from governments.... In Belgium they [introduced] a law to tax products with added sugar... There are similar tendencies in the rest of the world. There are some countries where they already tax unhealthy food."

Luts says governments and the food industry need to work together to improve awareness of the need to eat vegetables. "It is the responsibility of governments to make sure that people understand vegetables are important and also of the industry as a whole to bring that knowledge, that acceptance, to the market.... You have to start as a young kid. We have the task to make it attractive for young kids so that they are interested to eat vegetables because if you don't eat them as a child you won't eat them as an adult."

By broadening its footprint and expanding its vegetable offer throughout the store, Greenyard is set up to deliver a range of vegetable options that meet different consumer needs. The company is also able to offer a broad product platform irrespective of seasonality, Luts adds. "I don't think that there is a competition between fresh, canned and frozen. There is the time of the year. And if you take pumpkin, I don't think a lot of ladies would like to cut up a pumpkin but you can get it in frozen or canned at any time of the year."

Luts points to the extended portfolio means the new, enlarged business can offer its retail customers. "Now we have a broader portfolio we can have different discussions with the retailer that maybe we couldn't have before. For us the consumer is an important point to us. If we can offer at a certain moment in time (an out of season product) to the consumer we are giving them the ability to choose."

Greenyard operates more than 100 sales offices globally and, while he would not be drawn on which markets the group is focused on expanding in, Luts says he expects global consumption of vegetables will rise.

For Greenyard, however, it is not enough to grow in-line with a rising global market. Luts says Greenyard intends to grow "ahead of the market". He says: "It comes back to the fact that we represent the whole supply of vegetables."

Offering variety is one of Greenyard's key expansion strategies. Offering convenience is another. And here, Luts says Greenyard is working to offer convenient offerings across its portfolio. "If you look into convenience I think frozen can have some advantages. You have the development of the fresh cut vegetables... It is not always frozen that is convenient. You cannot buy frozen salads but you can get where you just open a bag [and] put it on your plate.”

While Luts says frozen vegetables appeal to consumers need for convenience and the desire to cut food waste, he concedes the category does face some specific challenges. He highlights the positioning of frozen foods within the retail store as one barrier. "By the time you get [to the freezer aisle] you have finished your shop. People are not always fully aware of the choices they have," he suggests.

Another issue Greenyard's frozen business must address is the quality perception of frozen vegetables. "I think sometimes people think it is better to prepare fresh. The good thing is that frozen is at least as fresh as fresh. People shouldn't be concerned about that. It is more the perception."

To try and change this perception, Greenyard intends to communicate the respective benefits of the three different ways it is bringing vegetables to market, Luts says. "It is about communication, communication, communication. And making people aware with some direct information that all the three ways of bringing vegetables to the market is good."

Greenyard is working to integrate its three global businesses. However, Luts says the company is not ready to fully outline how this process is developing or detail any potential synergies that the group hopes to unlock.

“The only thing I can say is in different areas you have different temperatures. Frozen is at minus, canned is at positive and fresh is normally between zero and five degrees. We work at different temperatures, so if you want [integrate your supply chain] you need to make sure you have vents or whatever at different temperatures otherwise it will not work.

"We are obliged to analyse continuously where we can improve whether it is in supply chain or other areas. It is our task also to see how we can be and remain competitive... This company was in the first place created to ensure that we can better serve the customer. That we have a more complete range. Basically it is about healthy food. If you take fresh canned or frozen, if you eat vegetables I think that is one of the main messages."

This week, just-food also ran a two-part interview with the CFO of Bonduelle, a fellow international vegetables supplier. Click here for Bonduelle's plans for organic growth and here for the French's group M&A ambitions.