Een interview met Johannes Tuinhof, commercieel directeur van Horticoop, een BON Founding Father

Voor onze nieuwsbrief deze maand hebben we Johannes Tuinhof, commercieel directeur van Horticoop, geïnterviewd. We werden ontvangen op het hoofdkantoor van Horticoop in Bleiswijk.

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BON Founding Father Horticoop is een meer dan 100 jaar oude organisatie met 850 leden die samenwerken richting een bewuste organisatie van en voor de tuinbouw. Horticoop heeft in een vastberaden en ambitieuze missie opgenomen dat het een gespecialiseerd leverancier wil worden door strategisch partner van kwekers te worden. Hun definitieve route om dit te bereiken gaat vergezeld met en is mogelijk door drie gebieden binnen duurzame ontwikkeling: samenwerken, co-creatie van waarde en duurzame innovatie.

In ons interview met Johannes hebben we gesproken over duurzaamheid, samenwerking en kennis delen binnen Horticoop. Daarnaast hebben we het gehad over hoe de duurzaamheidsmissie van de organisatie samenkomt met en zich verweeft met BON. Het interview is in het Engels afgenomen en daarom ook in het Engels hier geplaatst:   

What motivated Horticoop to become a FF for Benefits of Nature?

As a supplier in the horticulture sector, we want to be a partner for our growers and our suppliers. In order for the entire chain to be more responsible and thus more sustainable, you cannot merely rely on one part of the supply chain. Instead, the focus should be on sharing knowledge and expertise throughout the chain by collaborating with the partners involved. Our knowledge and solutions in biological crop protection and organic fertilizer allow us to increase this type of collaboration in the chain. Moreover, our organic substrate and complementary advice allows growers to significantly decrease their costs in the use of energy, water and crop protection. This broad added value created the base for our motivation to become a Founding Father of Benefits of Nature.

How do you envision the cooperation in the supply chain will be in the future?

First of all, it will definitely be different from how it is now. The most important change in the future supply chain will be an increase in trust in each others intentions and the willingness to cooperate and collaborate. Your organization states the importance of the ‘benefits of nature’, but in the cooperation and the supply chain there should be a benefit of… for everybody. It can be ‘of nature’, but it can also be ‘of profit’ or ‘of society’. The challenge is to get the supply chain in line to establish this broad value because, in essence, sharing value throughout the chain will  be needed to establish this future supply chain. Moreover, creating benefits of nature and society can only occur if profit is realized throughout the chain.

Now that you´ve mentioned knowledge I had a question related, I also saw you were doing some event last week titled Knowledge Sharing, what role do you think knowledge and knowledge sharing has on sustainability? Why is it so important?

What we see is that if we have knowledge, if you use certain types of organic substrate then it might be that in the base it has a higher price, but in the end you use less water, less energy, less fertilizers or in the total chain from the grower to the consumer the plant yields a higher quality because of the substrate. Consequently, the drop out of loss in the chain is going down from 15% to 10%. Then the knowledge we have about substrate, fertilizers and crop protection should be used further on in the chain and it is not possible to merely look at “what is the price” and “how cheap can it be”. The risk of continuously dropping prices throughout the chain might then be a much higher drop out percentage before the plant reaches its final customer. The bottom line is a more expensive process, due to the higher loss. Therefore we have to exchange knowledge and recognize or admit that what we are adding to the change is adding a value. For example, sometimes people see that if they are using a certain type of fertilizer it is giving a better plant or instead of 17 weeks of growth it take 14 weeks: you have a better plant and you see it! But that should not automatically mean that the price per plant should drop. If we don’t stagger those advantages and we can’t ask for a healthy price per plant, if we can’t make that difference in the market then it’s hard and then we are always going to be competing on the price. Instead, as a value chain we should use this knowledge to developer higher quality plants with higher yields and less drop-out throughout the chain.

It has a huge role then… What is Horticoop vision on sustainability or what is the view on sustainability?

We realize that the three P’s of sustainability are intertwined. We see more and more that adding value in ‘people’ and ‘planet’, or society and ecology, results in a healthy profit for our partners and for us. So the “P” for Profit I think is leading, and if we have a good profit then we can do a lot for the planet and we can do a lot for the people. But also the other way around: if we focus on creating for example more ecological value in reduction of gas, water or fertilizer usage at our growers, we see that these benefits are translated to higher yields and better margins. This is a fundamentally different perception of value then is commonly used in business.

So which area of focus would you say in this three P’s Horticoop has in sustainability?

It’s an easy answer to say all 3 of them, but what I see is that our main focus is to increase profitability for our growers and ourselves. What we see is that having our aim on increasing profitability throughout the chain helps us to become more sustainable. This means that we are not only thinking about the profit in terms of euros, but also to continuously generate better yield and margins for our growers. This makes the supply chain more sustainable in the long term. Consequently, we can have a close look at optimizing existing processes to increase value on the planet and people side of sustainability.

How do you think, when you remember about the issues of sustainability from 5 years ago until now, have changed? How has the industry changed in sustainability now?

I think that a lot of people in the industry are doing only a lot of things in sustainability for image and say: we are using less paper, we recycle our waste, we use less energy in the office, we are driving green cars and all those kind of things but they do not regard their most important and most polluting processes. A more sustainable corporation should ask the question: if we have 100 plants that we have to sell and we sell about a 100 here, how can we do this as efficient as possible whilst keeping the highest quality? In other words, we have to optimize our core business and make it more sustainable before we look at our ‘sustainable’ image.

So efficiency? Yes. So you think now companies think of how being efficient as being sustainable? Correct. Is it a mindset only of how we can make and show our operation to be more efficient?

To some extend you are right, but only if we look at merely our own operation. The true strength of sustainability becomes clear if we can connect all the links in the value chain. If a grower looks and he is really interested in the next part of the chain, which can be either the wholesale or the retailer, and the retailer sees opportunities as well, we should work together. We should become aware of what is going on in every part of the chain and share our knowledge to optimize the chain as a whole. Therefore, we have adopted in our mission that we want to be closer to our end user, which in our case is the grower. But we realize that our growers are part of the chain as well. They buy product from all different types of suppliers, such as young plants, substrates, fertilizer, crop protection, trays and other materials and create a project. The vertical chain as well as the horizontal competition makes value chain management for sustainability an immensely complex venture. Therefor, we decided to start our focus at our growers and start collaborating from there. The Benefits of Nature platform gives Horticoop an opportunity to get a much more detailed view of the value chain.

Do you think sustainable growth is possible in the horticultural sector?

Yes, definitely! I think that in the end, sustainability and collaboration are prerequisites for the survival of the sector. It entails creating better margins, optimizing all chain processes and sharing knowledge throughout the chain. More transparency leads to better management of supply & demand and create more triple bottom line value.

Het is voor Benefits of Nature een eer dat we mogen delen en samenwerken met organisaties als Horticoop, met wie visie en kracht kunnen bundelen om het gezamenlijke doel van duurzaamheid in de supply chain van de tuinbouwsector te bereiken. De samenwerking van onze Founding Fathers en leden in het creëren van innovatieve manieren van denken en in het starten van een nieuw perspectief in de sector is van onschatbare waarde in het proces van het co-creëren van producten die mooi, duurzaam, gezond en eerlijk zijn in de hele supply chain.