From pioneer to global player in organic vegetable breeding


From pioneer to global player in organic vegetable breeding

Vitalis has been offering ‘the best of both worlds’ for 25 years

This year, Vitalis Organic Seeds will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Since its foundation in 1994, the company from Voorst (the Netherlands) has developed from a pioneer in organic vegetable breeding to a global player with its own breeding programmes and seed cultivation on several continents. This success is due in part to the close collaboration with Enza Zaden, which became the sole owner in 2012.

Best of both worlds: organic vegetable breeding and technologic facilities

From that moment onwards, the organic expertise of Vitalis has been supported by a competent, fast-growing breeding company with a wealth of knowledge, experience and technological facilities. This was the basis for accelerated growth and a steady expansion of the portfolio with the addition of new crops. ‘To use a technical term, you could call this a heterosis effect,’ Marcel van Diemen, Manager Organic R&D and former spinach breeder, explains jokingly. ‘We can simply say that Vitalis combines the best of both worlds.’ Vitalis founder Jan Velema was a man on a mission. The former lettuce breeder dreamed of a world in which organic food production is a natural phenomenon. ‘Creating an organic world is still the mission of this company,’ Van Diemen says.

Pumpkin and more

Lettuce was followed by other crops. Pumpkin, for example. ‘The organic cultivation is expanding steadily, and pumpkin is a sturdy, rewarding crop in that segment. It fits perfectly in the rotation schedules,’ Van Diemen continues. ‘The majority of pumpkins sold in European supermarkets today have been cultivated organically. We have been the market leader for some years now with Orange Summer, a red pumpkin that is very popular internationally due to the high yield, excellent quality, and shelf life, and its good flavour.’

Vitalis currently breeds lettuce, spinach, pumpkin, and leek. The portfolio of organic varieties, however, is much broader. The varieties with the best resistance and a strong root system are selected from the Enza Zaden breeding programmes. These varieties are then tested under organic conditions, before being introduced to the organic market.

Steady growth in organic vegetable breeding

Vitalis Organic Seeds is growing steadily in turnover (double digits) and the number of employees. ‘In the past five or six years, we have also achieved an enormous increase in turnover in North America, in addition to strong growth in the Benelux countries, Spain, France, and Germany,’ Van Diemen says.

‘This is due not only to the growing interest in organic vegetables but also to the fantastic efforts of our American standard bearer Erica Renaud. She has really put Vitalis on the map and is steadily expanding our network and market share in the organic fresh chain.’

Part from Voorst to Enkhuizen

As a result of this expansion, the organisation in Voorst is now bursting at the seams. To ensure further growth and more efficient operation, part of logistics (seed cleaning, sorting, packing, storage, and shipment) will move from Voorst to a separate building in Enkhuizen in 2020.