Published 12/08/2016

‘Helping grower achieve maximum yields’

Svensson was founded in Sweden in 1887, growing into a leading textile producer over the years. With high-quality climate screens, Svensson grew to become a worldwide market leader for international horticulture. Svensson’s Dutch office celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Director Maarten Oostenbrink talks about vision, ambition and cooperation. "We are proud to be a leader in the industry."

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The first subsidiary of Swedish Svensson was founded in the Netherlands in 1981, led by Cees den Boer. The company was successful in greenhouse horticulture from the start.  When energy prices skyrocketed by 150 percent, Den Boer saw there was a need for a product that would be a decisive factor in greenhouse horticulture overheads. Energy concerns were not only a problem  in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Great Britain. Svensson's challenge consisted of creating an optimal product that would retain heat at night and release the excess heat that has risen during the day. The solution was a combination of foil and textile; a knitted textile with aluminium strips and a transparent film that allows the required amount of light through, holding on to the heat at night. The energy screen is impermeable to moisture and the capillary properties of the textile fibres prevent condensation from dripping down, damaging the crop. However, it proved impossible to make the screens on Svensson’s existing machines at the time, thus began the customization of the knitting machines.

The new knitted screen was enthusiastically received in horticulture, especially when it was realized that it not only benefited the crops, but it also led to substantial energy savings. The energy screen reduces radiation, convection and condensation losses efficiently and allows for savings of 40 to 60%. Svensson applied for a patent on the energy screen and received it in  1983. There was however not enough machine capacity available to make and process the new energy screens. The solution was adjusting multiple knitting machines and building new finishing machines. The success brought Svensson to explore the Japanese market a year after obtaining the patent. The United States, South Korea and finally China, soon followed. 

Connected Screening

The success of the screening has realized a global market and production and about a hundred different qualities that are adapted to the different climates. Around 99.5% of Svensson screens are  exported with the largest market being the Netherlands.  Svensson also has an extensive network of professional partners, installers and greenhouse builders, in  all the primary  horticultural markets. With these partners, worldwide horticultural projects are realized for growers who want to improve their climate. And cooperation with other parties continues to expand, according to the current Director, Maarten Oostenbrink of Svensson Netherlands. In this respect, he refers to Connected Screening. This innovation was recently launched by Svensson and Hoogendoorn. "Connected Screening is a software module that works on the Hoogendoorn iSii process computer and that can integrate the characteristics of the Svensson screening into the climate control system.  In practice, this allows the screen to stay closed for longer, as intended in Het Nieuwe Telen (The New Cultivation)", explains Oostenbrink. "Our long-term strategy is that we do not only want to make screening, but we want to expand to become a solution provider for international horticulture. We can also offer a large assortment of climate screening for any situation. In fact, with our materials we can control the desired climate in any greenhouse in the world. But to ensure the grower also knows how to get the most out of our products, we would like to work even closer with other specialists. By pooling together knowledge and experience, we can jointly serve the grower even better. The cooperation we have entered into with Hoogendoorn concerning Connected Screening is a perfect example of this."

Oostenbrink doesn't have a horticultural background for starters. He previously held positions at Hunter Douglas and potato processor Aviko. "Svensson was deliberately looking for someone from outside to assist the company in its further innovation. For years, Svensson was primarily a production company, the organization must now get ready for a new generation. I can contribute with my experience in other sectors."  Oostenbrink indicates that Svensson, as a true family business, always has its focus on the long term. "We always think in generations and as a company, we find it important to make a valuable contribution to the future. The grower of tomorrow wants to work even more efficiently than he already does. We see it as our mission to help those growers achieve this optimal return and so we as a company must grow with our customers and their needs." Oostenbrink feels at home within the family business, where according to him, the people are the constant factor. "Some have worked in the company for 30 or 35 years. Those people hold so much knowledge, knowledge on which we can build on. And as a family business, you can also innovate quickly and purposefully because you do not feel the breath of shareholders in your neck. We see it as our responsibility to help lift the international horticultural sector to a higher level continuously. As companies in other disciplines, we must also have the courage to take the lead. That makes us a leader in the industry, and we are proud of it."  

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Close to the industry

According to Oostenbrink, in the 35 years that Svensson has been active in the Netherlands, the company has always worked closely with growers. “A lot of ideas originally come from growers and were picked up and worked out jointly with them. By keeping up dialogue with the industry, you as an organization know constantly what's going on, what the problems are and what the needs are. And you can then anticipate this with new products and applications. As has happened with the introduction of our New Harmony screen, which took five years to develop.

According to Oostenbrink, knowledge sharing and advice is indispensable for growers. “You need knowledge and information to be able to grow. Without knowledge, there are no returns. That is why we also have a large number of advisers who visit the companies and enter into conversation. Of course, ultimately the grower determines whom he has the most confidence in and the importance he attaches to our advice. But based on our years of experience in horticulture, I dare to say that Svensson has built up an image of respectability and reliability. Where we are also often seen as the solution provider we want to be.” Oostenbrink once again stresses the importance for Svensson of co-operation with other suppliers within the horticultural industry. “As we work together with Hoogendoorn, we have also established good relationships with for example Wageningen UR, TNO and so on. By strengthening each other, you can better help the grower, but you can also grow individually. Because even after 35 years, we want to continue to improve ourselves and our products, but we realize perfectly well that we cannot do so alone.

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