"Prices will rebound. I have full confidence in things improving. We're in a dip now, but we'll just keep going. The energy crisis is causing cost increases, putting consumer spending under pressure. But, people still want to eat a healthy piece of fruit," says Marcel Eversdijk of the Dutch top fruit company N. Eversdijk.
Marcel and his two compatriots are the fourth generation running this family business, where the fifth generation is already involved. They grow apples and pears, and the apple harvest was in full swing at the time of writing in early October. Marcel expected that to continue until the end of October, adding that the fruit is of good quality.
Regarding sales, he hopes Dutch supermarkets will keep giving preference to local top fruit at cost-plus prices. "Supermarkets can put Dutch apple and pear varieties - homegrown, safe, certified, and of good quality - on the shelves instead of importing them. Preferring local growers is also a noticeable trend overseas," says Marcel. In this regard, he considers the PlanetProof certification his growing company has achieved an advantage. "We, thus, easily meet Dutch supermarket standards."
Energy-saving CO2 refrigeration
Though Marcel thinks the market will equalize again, he does notice the effects of the rising costs of things like energy, fertilizers, crop protection products, and staff. "Costs are climbing on all sides, but shoppers want lower prices. That's not going to work," he explains. Here, the fruit grower considers efficiency important. For example, he has installed solar panels and LED lighting, and the fruit company recently switched to energy-efficient CO2 refrigeration. "It's crucial to ensure everything's shipshape. The cooling must be good, our power contracts in order, and the product quality good."
Refrigeration is needed to do business, Marcel says. "If you had to sort and sell everything during picking, you wouldn't be able to get rid of all the fruit, so we need a cooling system to provide year-round fruit. We can thus gradually market our crop. The cooler runs year-round. The last apples go out when the new crop goes in." When their refrigeration system needed replacement, Marcel and co chose a future-proof, low-maintenance CO2 system.
Besides the refrigerant being environmentally friendly, the CO2 system's energy efficiency contributed to this choice too. "Put in one unit of energy, and you get an average of five units of cooling out of it, depending on the installation. With, say, a Freon system, that's much lower," says Dieter Zimmermann of HVA Refrigeration. This company that supplied Eversdijk's cooling system focuses on refrigeration for the fruit and vegetable sector.
HVA's Erik Deswerts adds that phasing out synthetic refrigerant gases such as Freon will eventually come down to natural refrigerants. Then propane, ammonia, and CO2 come into the picture. Among these, says Erik, CO2 is the most energy-efficient. HVA works with systems that use only CO2, not a multiple refrigerant mix, making energy conversion as efficient as possible. "The cooling actions and storage are good," he explains. He also points out that a CO2 refrigeration system generates a lot of heat, which you can use to heat the business areas. "It's free heat; you don't have to heat the building any other way," adds Marcel, who does exactly this.
Energy is an ever-present topic in the sector, observes Erik, and there's plenty of interest in taking steps to save it. For one thing, HVA can accurately chart clients' power usage. "Then we can see, for instance, if you need refrigeration during peak times, where losses occur, and whether certain processes are truly needed. We must investigate those aspects."
Also, HVA wants to rely on a single energy system as much as possible. "Companies increasingly install solar panels, so we're looking into how to integrate them into our system. We think that on sunny days, the cooling system should run entirely on solar energy," he concludes. There seem to still be some programming hurdles to overcome, but Erik sees opportunities for this in the future.