HZPC has an important role in the potato production and processing chain. We want to maintain and further strengthen this position. We do this by not only being a supplier of seed potatoes; we are also an innovative developer of new varieties and a knowledge partner in new market concepts.
It is our aim to get more insight into the chain. From the development of new potato varieties, cultivation, processing, packaging, retail, all the way to the consumer’s plate. We want to take into account the wishes and aspirations of stakeholders in the entire chain from the earliest breeding stages.
To this end, HZPC contacts growers around the world and exchanges information with major food service and supermarket chains. An insight into the wishes of the customers is becoming increasingly important.
Research & Development
Innovation, research and product development are essential to our business. With a portfolio of more than 80 varieties, we can be proud of the performance of Research & Development. We are committed to the further cultivation of potatoes and the introduction of new, even better varieties. Our company also wants to continue producing the best varieties and the best seedlings in the future. We mainly select varieties that are doing well in areas where we see opportunities for further expansion. Developing new varieties, however, takes a lot of time; often longer than ten years. In order to remain profitable in the long term too, it is wise to continue investing in research, which can shorten development time.
Backed by excellent operating results, HZPC Holding is gradually increasing its research budget. Every year, the R&D budget is increased by about 8%. We strive to spend about 16% of the gross margin on research and product development. In the short term, HZPC is able to serve all markets as required. Our company develops potato varieties that are suitable for all possible climatic and soil conditions. We have seedlings that guarantee a good yield, are resistant to diseases and can withstand less water and fertilizers.
In search of genetic combinations
HZPC works with the latest and most advanced breeding technology. In our research programmes we work with genomic selection, hybrid breeding, biometrics, bioinformatics and molecular biology. We are also investigating the possibilities of growing potatoes from seed. Whether it’s possible to compete with seedlings is still uncertain.
These may look like revolutionary methods, but we largely use breeding technology that has been applied to other crops for a long time. In the search for new genetic combinations, there is still much to be done. We assume that the yield per hectare can eventually double, even in Western Europe.
If the Netherlands wants to maintain its strong position as a potato country, then political decision-making is necessary with regard to the approval of modern breeding technology
Gerard Backx, CEO
Appeal to national and European politics
However, traditional techniques are insufficient. This is why it is worrying that innovation in our sector, and the application of modern processing techniques, has been blocked by European laws and regulations for years. If the Netherlands, as a potato country, wants to maintain its strong position in the world, it has to give the breeders enough space. HZPC sees a great need for rapid political decision-making on this issue. We are convinced that banned methods such as cisgenesis and CRISPR carry no significant risks and can make a significant contribution to the cultivation of sustainable varieties for the future. Waiting longer for new legislation is not sustainable for our company. In that case, we will strongly consider moving certain research activities from HZPC Research & Development in Metslawier to the United States.
The breeding of potatoes is seeing relatively little progress. That is our concern. The development is currently too slow compared to, for example, rice, cereals, beans and corn. If we do not move forward, we will be overtaken. Our sector needs to ensure faster progress in the area of plant breeding. The potato yield requires continuous improvement otherwise the crop will become too expensive. For the global food supply, that would be very regrettable.
Creativity in the organisation
In addition to new breeding techniques, Research & Development is also developing other innovations. For example, we are developing tools that are well-suited to breeding processes, storage and processing. In this way we are also taking responsibility for innovation that benefits other stakeholders in the chain.
HZPC Holding has (through SBDA) a separate holding in the private company Solentum. This start-up focuses on the development of measurement methods based on, inter alia, sensor technology. Using sensors, scanning devices, and apps, relevant data is recorded during crop rotation, harvesting, during sorting and in storage. This data includes temperature, moisture levels, CO 2 levels and expected yields.
Technologies have also been developed under the name of SolEye ®, and these are being successfully utilised in processing stages in the French fries industry. Within the foreseeable future, our company will be faced with the question as to whether these creative projects fit our core business, and whether we should take them on ourselves, or in cooperation with partners.
We have seedlings that guarantee a good yield, are resistant to diseases and can withstand less water and fertilisers
Gerard Backx, CEO
Fries and crisps remain ever-popular with consumers. Our sales in this market are growing faster than our sales in the fresh market. An important trend is the need for healthy and ‘conscious’ food. Potatoes are healthy in any case, but much progress remains to be made when it comes to their preparation. This is especially true in the preparation of French fries. Under the project name Fries4all we are working with two partners on potatoes with lower levels of carbohydrates, fat and calories. We have already managed to develop French fries that do not require deep-frying. With an airfryer, 30% to 40% healthier French fries are prepared, while also maintaining the crisp, fresh potato flavour.
The potato is slowly beginning to lose its permanent place in every meal in Europe and America – at least as far as classic, traditional preparation is concerned. Together with our partners in the chain, we want to ensure that consumers in prosperous countries continue to regard the potato as important and tasty. HZPC is therefore interested in developing new products from raw potatoes. Simply put, we want to make the potato more ‘sexy’. The potato lends itself to more than just cooking and deep-frying. It can also be processed into convenience foods, or into dishes with which the classic potato is currently still competing, such as pasta.
Under the name Woksi® tests are currently being carried out with a potato product that is processed into a type of spaghetti or noodles. Woksi® can be prepared in the wok, or used in salads, for example. HZPC has patented Woksi® and sees opportunities for large-scale production and sales. However, we do not intend to take on production ourselves, and are therefore seeking to cooperate with another chain partner. After all, we are expanding the potato’s marketing and application possibilities.