Making something special
The Vergeer family are self-confessed “real lovers of cheese”, and since 1934 Vergeer Holland has used this passion to become one of the Netherlands leading cheese maturers and sellers
In its own words, Vergeer Holland has been making ordinary cheese special since 1934. The Vergeer family have actually been present in Reeuwijk in the western Netherlands since they owned farms there in 1642, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the company that shares its name was formed by Dirk Vergeer. At the time, Dirk sold handmade cheese produced by his parents, with the company later going on to buy factory-made cheese which it would mature and process prior to selling it at various distribution points.
By the 1960s, the increase in self-service stores led to a growing demand for packaged cheese and Vergeer invested in this expanding segment by acquiring additional facilities, while also extending its selection of products through the introduction of pre-packaged sliced cheese and grated cheese. “Today we are a modern, streamlined, third generation family company with more than 550 employees working from our locations in Reeuwijk, Woerden and Bodegraven,” begins Vergeer Holland’s Commercial Director, Felix van Brussel.
“Over time, we have grown into one of the largest, most innovative cheese packaging companies in Europe, with customers all over the world,” Felix continues. “These customers represent a wide variety of market segments, from retail to foodservice, and are supplied with only the finest naturally ripened cheese, as well as foil cheese, in a host of varieties including favourites such as gouda, edam and maasdam.”
In more recent times, 2016 to be exact, the company underwent a rebrand to better capture the essence of what Vergeer Holland is all about. “We came to the conclusion that our previous logo didn’t quite fit this period of time, but also that it lacked elements to explain our heritage and craftsmanship,” Felix explains. “We modernised and enriched our former logo by adding elements such as a shield, which represents the passing of our craftsmanship through the generations, adding the term ‘fam’ reaffirms our pride in being a family business, and our tag line of ‘Makes ordinary cheese special again’ explains how we give regular cheese a special taste through our tradition of ripening.”
Alongside the rebranding of the business, Vergeer Holland has continued to introduce new packaging and product options in response to consumer trends. “Based on the increasing trend amongst people of grazing or snacking, we took the decision to improve and relaunch our portion packages,” Felix reveals. “In February 2018, we launched our new net packages with a label around the net as a way of improving consumer communication and to better stand out on the shelves, which has been very positive to date. We have also launched new products targeting those seeking a healthy, vegetarian option in the form of 40g sticks of Gouda Young, individually wrapped in an easy flow pack to be enjoyed as snacks on the go. We also offer 40g sticks made of Gouda Extra Old cheese.”
In the past few years, the company has also invested considerable amounts in new cutting and packaging machines. These include completely new lines, such as a fully automated fixed weight line for cheese pieces and wedges, and a new fresh pack line to cut and pack cheese slices. “Our new retail packaging line for slices yields a saving of 46 percent per kilo of packaged cheese when it comes to packaging weight compared to our old line,” Felix says, before detailing some other environmental benefits of its new lines and systems. “For another packaging line, we have also achieved a 5.5 per cent per kilo saving in the weight of our packaged cheese by reducing the amount of foil used.
“In truth, we are always searching for ways of minimising the impact our packaging has on the environment. The packages we have introduced in recent years stand as examples of how we have moved to using thinner plastic packaging, while smaller foil cuts also limit the amount of plastics used per kilo of packaged cheese. In reducing our plastic usage, we are also making significant reductions to our carbon footprint.”
The latter achievement is also being made possible through the close relationships that the company shares with key players within its supply chain. These players include its largest distribution partner STEF, which is tasked with ensure the safe, on-time arrival of Vergeer Holland’s products to its customers in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. “With STEF, we are continuously looking at new opportunities to adapt to the rapid changes affecting the supply chain,” Felix adds. “At the end of the day, the distribution cost per kilo of cheese is a very important number for us and by conducting detailed analysis we have been able to find improvements to reduce the average transportation distance per kilo of cheese, which again helps to cut the amount of carbon being produced.”
Looking ahead to what the coming three-to-five years may hold for Vergeer Holland, Felix is suitably bullish about its prospects. “We remain a leading, customer-driven family owned company, one which is flexible, dynamic and focused on continuous improvement, and on providing every market segment we serve with socially responsible, high-quality products,” he concludes. “When it comes to our long-term outlook, we are always looking for the next innovation in terms of machinery, we are very open to new acquisitions, both nationally and internationally, and we will continue to seek out strong, strategic partnerships with suppliers. Together, this strategy will ensure that many more consumers, inside and outside of our home market, will go on to enjoy our special ripened cheese.”