As commerce goes global and retailers grow larger, how can small independent businesses compete? The Greenery International, a cooperative of 5,000 Dutch growers, thinks it has the answer. It is integrating the agricultural supply chain--and delivering fresher produce to supermarket shelves around the world. That's an ambitious goal, but The Greenery is succeeding.

"We are regulating the market so that there is never oversupply, undersupply or price fluctuation," says René Santegoets, The Greenery's manager of IT research and development. "Big supermarkets are willing to pay for a stable, high-quality product that they can have each day fresh in their shop at a reliable price."

From 1990 to 2001: Creating a Seamless, Consolidated e-Business

The 1990s were a period of crisis for Dutch produce growers. For a century, they had been selling to town greengrocers at local produce auctions. But by the close of the 20th century, national and international supermarket chains had almost entirely replaced local markets. Dutch growers were forced to undercut one another's prices or watch as the chains turned to competitors in other parts of Europe for their produce.

In response, Dutch growers banded together in 1996 to found The Greenery International. These growers are the company's shareholders/owners, and they receive a disbursement of the profits at year's end. Their goal: to maintain a steady supply of produce and become the preferred supplier of top-quality produce worldwide.

That's a tremendous logistical challenge. "If you pick tomatoes in the morning," says Santegoets, "you have to sell them within a few hours." This may be easy for a single grower who simply has to pick baskets of tomatoes and drive into town. It's much harder when you need to consolidate the harvests from thousands of independent growers and then ship those perishables to such destinations as Boston and Tokyo.

The Greenery's members undertook the task of integrating the agricultural supply chain so that it behaved as a single, seamless e-business. First, they bought all the middlemen between the greenhouse and the supermarket shelf. Within four years, the Greenery had purchased 71 separate companies--companies that handled every step from greenhouse to supermarket, including shipping, sorting, grading, packing, cutting, import, export, trading and logistics.

Next, the members had to enable real-time communication among all those intermediate businesses without replacing existing hardware or software, and create an application that allowed local growers to both report on their crops' readiness for market and receive instructions about when to pick and how to pack.

Offering Universal Accessibility: Any-to-Any Communication with Buyers


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