He is now the fourth Binst generation to run the company. And despite all these years of experience, it remains stressful. “But above all, a great challenge”, says the Belgian Francis Binst. He has growers under contract in Belgium, Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands. “We sell their seed potatoes in 42 countries. Every year, you start all over again. You have to find the best market for your growers in a very short time and the highest price possible.”
A good storage cell is essential to maintain product quality for as long as possible. Last year, Francis Binst replaced his 7,5000 square meters storage cell for a smaller cold store that runs on the natural refrigerant CO2. For this, he turned to ENGIE.
“The old storage cell was built by Axima Refrigeration, the Belgian specialist within the ENGIE Group. All those years (more than 40), they also provided maintenance. We cooled mechanically with ammonia, which can be justified with a larger cold store. However, the new cell is much smaller and therefore CO2 is a better option, also financially. The long trustful relationship made Bints choose ENGIE again, but this time, the implementation was done by the Dutch ENGIE Refrigeration team.
The seed potato grower switched to a smaller cell, which can be explained by the evolution he noticed in recent years: fewer and fewer potatoes were stored in one central location and more locally at growers. As a result, his cell was used less. He now opts for a new and more lucrative construction: his own smaller cell as a buffer, for transhipment and for the storage of products that require exceptional quality attention. He also offers his growers financial compensation for storing their products in their shed at the farm. “It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly in comparison to central storage with us in Brussels and with all the logistics involved.”
Within a year after the first pencil mark, the new refrigeration room was up and running. “We had a deadline because the old site was sold as of December 1, 2019. We switched over in mid-November. The installation worked immediately and what did not work was immediately solved by Stefan, Project Manager at ENGIE. “The fact that there is lots of knowledge of seed potato growing in the Netherlands certainly helps”, Francis explains. “And the process went very efficiently without too much fuss.” Something Francis is not completely used to from the Dutch, he remarks with a wink.
Binst’s cell serves as storage for its growers on special occasions only; therefore the performance must be outstanding. “For instance, we store potatoes with quality issues. These are often more humid and therefore require different storage than potatoes that are already of good quality. We also store products of higher classes or seed potatoes for markets with extremely high-quality demands and where quality preservation or optimization is therefore essential.”
The Binst laboratory is indispensable for quality control and selection of seed potatoes. Here, for example, the samples taken during harvesting are cultivated and examined. Based on, among other things, the formation of germs it is determined whether the seed potatoes are suitable for long-term storage and when they should be delivered.
“Because of the transhipment of finished goods, our cell is opened and closed all day long while the conditions should be constant. It is not without a reason that our cell is over-dimensioned and has a bigger capacity than we actually need.
Finally, we store products in different packages, which is unique as most growers store different varieties of potatoes in the same crates. The new cold store can be set in such a way that storage conditions remain stable and optimal for every product we store, under the guidance of our ‘master guru’ Willy, our Storage Chief, who has been working for the Bins family for 56 years.”
Francis is more than happy with the quality of the products that leave his warehouse. “We have not had any quality problems with our products, and also, the financial benefits are considerable. The electricity costs are half as high as they used to be. The only challenge now is to use the smaller storage space as efficiently as possible. But the installation does its job and generates money”, Francis concludes with satisfaction.