As usual, we have another great interview for you. This time with Henri Vercruysse, the driving force behind Terrabeo. Henri was one of the first people to give our Açai berries a chance and we will be eternally grateful for that. The reason why cooperation with Henri is so good is because we share values. Through this interview, we give you a glimpse behind the scenes at Terrabeo and hope to motivate even more people to put organic products on the menu more often.
Hello Henri, first of all thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us. As always, we ask you to give a short introduction about yourself and your professional activities.
I am Henri Vercruysse and 6 years ago I started an organic fresh market in Ghent, called BEO market. My mission then was and still is to make organic products affordable. I am trying to do this mainly by handling the logistics differently from the currently highly fragmented organic sector. In the meantime, the team has grown considerably and now, 7 years later, we have a shop in Antwerp, 2 shops in Brussels, a purchase centre and recently also an e-commerce, all founded with the same mission in mind. Through the purchase central, we manage to offer a large proportion of the products to our customers at an affordable price.
Where did the idea of starting a fresh market come from?
The inspiration came from an organic market in Brussels called Marché des Tanneurs. It was there that my affinity with organic products grew and the idea of starting my own fresh market was born. Because the founders were good friends, I had the opportunity to do an internship there to experience at first hand how a fresh market is run. After 5 years of running BEO fresh market on my own, we decided to merge under the name Terrabeo and roll out a purchase centre and e-commerce together. The decision to join forces was made because it brings us even closer to our common goal: to make a larger segment of the population enthusiastic about organic products by making them affordable and accessible. “Organic is also for you” is a slogan that I often use. After all, organic is also just mayonnaise, oatmeal, milk, … and all sorts of other everyday foods that do not necessarily have to be special or expensive. Lowering the threshold for organic alternatives is what drives us.
What differentiates your food market from the standard organic food shop? In other words, what makes your concept so unique?
What makes us particularly unique is the way we work with our suppliers. This is done in the most direct way possible, with emphasis on the shortest possible chain. In addition, we have a limited product range and try to be the strongest partner in this, with a good selection at competitive prices. We want you to have a basket full of food for 25 euros, so we are really careful that the average purchase price does not become too high. Something that is just the objective of many shops. So when a product becomes too expensive, we often decide to stop selling it.
As you just mentioned, you work directly with certified farmers and keep the chain as short as possible. Was it a difficult task to work in this way?
Theoretically, it is not difficult, but in reality it proved to be a big challenge. Because in order to work directly, you need to be able to build up a stock and therefore you need money to pre-finance it. When you order a product from Italy, for example, it is impossible for 2 boxes but you have to order a pallet immediately. Ensuring that the money is always available for this is not easy. We really had to search for the most suitable method and, fortunately, we have found it.
Many people want to go organic more regularly, but lack information on why organic is better than non-bio and why the organic alternatives are often a bit more expensive. What do you see as the biggest differences between organic and non-organic products?
1.5 litres of pesticides a year that you put into your body, to start with. I also think that the difference in taste is enormous, especially for vegetables, fruit and dairy products. To answer the question about the additional price, there are several reasons for this. Apart from the fact that the organic sector is more fragmented, with more intermediate links and lower efficiency, the additional price is mainly due to the fact that the crops and animals have more time to grow. In addition, the yield per plant, per animal, … is lower with organic than with non-bio. Whereas a “conventional” tomato plant produces 5kg of tomatoes, an organic tomato plant produces 3kg of tomatoes. This is another reason why the taste of organic tomatoes is often better. The energy of the plant is divided over the number of tomatoes, so the fewer tomatoes, the more energy can go to those few tomatoes and therefore the better their taste will be. And that goes for everything. A final, still very important factor where organic differs from non organic, is the animal welfare. For me personally, this is the strongest argument when people ask me why they should opt for organic meat. If I really had to give one tip to people who want to give organic a chance, it would be to start with fruit and vegetables because there the financial step is less big.
And just try to make a recipe using organic products in one version and non organic products in the other and do a taste test. Be sure to use potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and courgettes because with these vegetables the taste difference is enormous!
I can imagine that because of your job you are very concerned with healthy eating. Do you pay attention to healthy and pure food in your private life?
Naturally, we focus on healthy, unprocessed food. We are not necessarily going to pay attention to the nutritional values such as the number of carbs per meal, but we will look at the quality of the products and the way they have been prepared. Now, it is not that my job has made me interested in healthy food, it is rather the other way round. It was precisely because I was interested in pure nutrition and already payed attention to that, that I made it my job.
We know from good sources that our Açai berries regularly appear on the menu at the Vercruysse family. May I ask how?
You have good sources (laughs). We usually blend your Açai berries into a smoothie We mix a few bags of melted Açai with a couple of dates, almond milk and fresh banana into a fresh smoothie. Delicious as a breakfast for the whole family or when I am “on the go”.
Finally, Henri, how would you like to see the future of the organic sector?
The goal of everyone in the organic sector is that in the future we will no longer need to use the word bio because bio has become the standard. But to achieve this, we need to raise standards and unfortunately this will not happen overnight.