Rijk Zwaan Zaadteelt en Zaadhandel B.V. is a Dutch vegetable-breeding and seed-production company that is among the top five vegetable-breeding companies worldwide.
Founded by the company’s namesake in 1929, Rijk Zwaan is the only family-owned vegetable seed provider that is part of that top-five list.
Rijk Zwaan organic seeds
“Rijk Zwaan has been a part of organic since organic was a thing,” said David Perie, account manager of retail and foodservice for Rijk Zwaan USA Inc., which is headquartered in Salinas, California. “Being a European-based company, we’ve been on-trend for organics for a really long time.”
The company started in organic with primary crops—breeding lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes—and as demand increased, Rijk Zwaan grew with it to try and stay ahead.
Brasilio RZ butterhead lettue from Rijk Zwaan
“We all see how organics are taking over the market—especially with spinach,” Perie said.
Currently, the company has 19 organic crops that it works with, and within each crop are multiple varieties. For instance, its lettuce crop has dozens of suitable varieties for organic, and there are many organic varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, and others.
“Rijk Zwaan has been a part of organic since organic was a thing.” -David Perie
“Organic has long been important to us,” Perie said. “We listen to what the consumer wants and what the grower and consumer needs, and this is our way of responding to the needs of our customers.”
Moreover, an organic mindset is part of Rijk Zwaan’s overall philosophy of sustainability, which has been at the top of its priority list for the past decade.
David Perie, Account Manager for Retail & Foodservice, Rijk Zwaan USA Inc.
“Whether we are talking soil health, stronger resistances for less pesticide use, etc., this is the right way to move,” Perie said.
Some of the company’s innovation has been centered on produce varieties with high resistance to pests and diseases, lettuce types, and creating longer shelf life. Rijk Zwaan invests about 30 percent of its turnover in R&D because it understands the best way to succeed is to innovate and give more value to growers.
“We listen to what the consumer wants and what the grower and consumer needs, and this is our way of responding to the needs of our customers.” -David Perie
In 2020, the company saw significant sales growth in the "big four"—lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, and brassicas—but also saw large interest in organic melons.
“The indoor crops are seeing more and more demand and requests for organics, whether you’re talking cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers,” Perie said. “But we are [also] getting a lot more requests on the melon side.”
English cucumbers from Rijk Zwaan organic seeds
Growth opportunities in the organic category are therefore available, though Rijk Zwaan does whatever it can to garner interest and increase vegetable consumption overall by offering healthier, more attractive vegetable varieties.
“We have the everyday [goal] of breeding better vegetables—higher yields, better flavor, new products,” Perie said. “We’re doing a little bit extra work in both social media and direct-to-customer work on inspiration, recipe development, etc. That’s one of the biggest calls we are getting these days.”
Because so many more people are cooking at home due to the pandemic, Rijk Zwaan is focusing on what it can do differently with today’s vegetables and how the company can introduce the consumer to some classic vegetables that maybe they don’t know enough about—a Kohlrabi for example.
Rijk Zwaan has a platform called “Lovemysalad.com,” which doesn’t focus on any specific vegetable but provides ideas and inspiration to increase overall vegetable consumption.
“We’re doing a little bit extra work in both social media and direct-to-customer work on inspiration, recipe development, etc. That’s one of the biggest calls we are getting these days.” -David Perie
“We are big believers that the more vegetables [are] consumed in the market, the more it helps all of us,” Perie said.
He believes that those in the organic industry must provide growers more tools than they have today for them to continue to be successful and have a profitable food chain from seed to store.
Rijk Zwaan red peppers
“Everybody has to have options on varieties, types of products, and product differentiation. And we do a lot of that on resistance breeding to give them the different options out in the organic markets and give them the ability to grow some products they haven’t been able to grow in the past because of restrictions on what they can apply to products,” Perie said.