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Entrepreneurial farmer promotes sweet corn to Dutch cooks

Average consumption still low

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

KESSEL, the Netherlands - A 1997 decision to bypass the auction system and market his home-grown sweet corn himself, has changed the life of Limburg entrepreneur Giel Hermans. Unable to sell his ‘chicken feed’ through regular channels, he approached supermarket chain Albert Heijn and invited them to buy direct from the farm. To provide a year-round supply, something the buyer demanded, Hermans became a buyer himself as well, contracting with growers in Spain, the U.S., Israel and Turkey.

Maastricht-born Hermans originally had planned to become a dairy farmer but working at farms in France and Spain introduced him to sweet corn and its culinary possibilities. The vegetable virtually is a staple for North American consumers, with an average annual consumption of ten kilograms. Ten years ago, people in the Netherlands on average only consumed thirty grams of sweet corn a year, just over one ounce.

Thinking he could create a niche market for himself, Hermans planted half an acre with sweet corn, but was forced to sell it below cost at the produce auction. His contract with Albert Heijn initially created challenges to deliver a steady supply, but since then, the Kessel farmer indeed has cornered the market. In the off-season for Dutch-grown sweet corn, Hermans imports from selected growers in Spain, Morocco, Israel and the U.S., supplying his clients with a product of equal quality. Since 1995, consumption in the Netherlands has doubled, but remains well below the average North American consumption, which is over 160 times higher.

Hermans not only grows sweet corn - at 290 acres near Kessel - but also buys corn elsewhere, packages the ears and supplies them to most grocery stores in the Netherlands. With a growing number of people learning about sweet corn during trips to North America, demand is sure to grow.