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Houweling's: The Foundation Forward

from left to right: Head Corporate Grower Arie van der Giessen, President and CEO Kevin Doran, and EVP of Sales Mike Reed

Blueprints inspire many possibilities; etched lines, shapes, and equations all fitting together like an overarching puzzle to the perfect end product. But if your first association with the word isn't tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers, then you're not thinking like Houweling's.

In every step of its operations, from the ostensibly simple needs for water and nutrients, to picking, packing, and shipping, each carefully nurtured Houweling’s produce item is the culmination of a team working toward a singular vision: To treat every aspect and input of the business with a sense of personal pride, and to do things the right way and always look to see how they can be done better.

Casey Houweling, Chairman of Houweling’s and the innovator behind the internationally-known brand, has established his name by cultivating high-tech means for growing flavorful produce. With aspirations to see his namesake company grow and reposition for future, long-term success, Casey named Kevin Doran as President and CEO.

With a strong team in place, Kevin had a foundation to build upon and moved quickly to add to that team’s strength. He added Arie van der Giessen in the role of Corporate Grower and Mike Reed as Executive Vice President of Sales.

It can sound corny, but I am a big believer in teams and teamwork. It is what leads to a winning culture internally.

- Kevin Doran

“It can sound corny, but I am a big believer in teams and teamwork. It is what leads to a winning culture internally,” Kevin shares. “I often use what I refer to as my ‘tiresome sports analogies,’ because they apply, and in the case of Mike and Arie, we added two topline players.”

As I discuss with these produce architects their accomplishments and future strategies, all eyes remain on the same sentiment: Houweling’s has developed a legacy based on masterful ingenuity and, under a reign of cross-functional leadership, its span of creation has only just begun.

“Houweling’s is rather well-known,” Arie laughs. “When you bring up this industry, it seems hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know Houweling’s.”

From left to right: Utah Assistant Grower Noel Waters, Chairman Casey Houweling, Head Corporate Grower Arie van der Giessen, Utah General Manager/Head Grower Roy van Spronsen

At the shelf level, that degree of recognition comes in consumers’ love for the refined cucumbers, bell peppers, and tomatoes coming out of Houweling’s glass houses in California, Utah, and British Columbia. But, follow the brand back through the supply chain and it’s easy to see that Houweling’s success comes from much further than just what grows within the greenhouse. The company has built its legacy from the very designs and practices upheld in its greenhouses themselves.

Need an example? Look no further than Houweling’s patented Ultra Clima greenhouse design, one of the company’s keys to sustainable year-round production in traditionally adverse environments, and the keystone to its highly sought-after end product.

Designed in tandem by Casey and greenhouse manufacturer Kubo Group of Holland, Ultra Clima breaks the conventional glass house mold by maximizing control to boost production and quality; the unrivaled blueprint to growing unforgettable greenhouse produce.

Sidestepping the traditional use of passive ventilation, Ultra Clima offers total control of climate conditions in the greenhouse through fan motor systems. Creating “over-pressure,” this semi-closed method uses 4 percent of the vents and screens needed in a standard greenhouse–which in turn reduces interference from insects, possible disease, and sunlight. This all produces higher yields, maximum food safety, minimum energy and water consumption, lowered CO2 emissions, and boosted returns.

The internationally patented concept is so successful, Kubo Group–who has worldwide sales and marketing rights for Ultra Clima–has brought the greenhouse technology beyond the Houweling’s Group’s own operations into other North American greenhouses. Ultra Clima’s reach has extended around the globe to be used by growers as far off as Australia, Russia, and even Holland–the epicenter of the greenhouse industry.

“All three of our sites deploy world-leading sustainability technologies, at no small capital cost,” Kevin says of the company’s innovations that have been turning industry heads for years. “It is very expensive to do the right thing for the environment and climate, but it’s a value we hold high as a company.”

And the innovations don’t stop there. Houweling’s has also gained new ground by harnessing the power of cogeneration engines in its California and British Columbia greenhouses.

The GE Jenbacher engines burn natural gas and convert it using industry-changing tech to generate the electricity, with the combustion waste, heat and CO2 used throughout the growing process. The five engines produce 22 MW of energy, coming in at 4.4 MW per engine. Any leftover electricity is supplied to the nearby energy grids, lifting Mother Nature’s burden ever so slightly.

And the Utah farm? Never leaving an area of its operations out of the high-tech club, the Houweling’s team has again harnessed proprietary technology. With this system, heat and CO2 waste from a power plant adjacent to the greenhouse farm are captured from the exhaust stack of the 545 MW power plant. It is then diverted into the farm as the heat and CO2 source required to grow perfect fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We have three major greenhouse operations in very different climates and geography. Even though they all use breakthrough technology, each of them implements unique growing strategies,” Arie tells me “As a grower, that is very stimulating and drives a lot of learning and innovation in our team.”

1. California Phase Grower Randy Shaw 2. Houweling's Tomatoes On the Vine 3. Houweling's greenhouse-grown Tomatoes On the Vine

The company has completed the transition from its roots as a supplier with third-party marketers and distributors, to a direct to retail business model–a transition that was first implemented three years ago. Kevin and the team at Houweling’s Group are poised to further strengthen and grow the company’s retail partnerships. And their synchronized performance is what sees seemingly-endless rows of fresh produce transforming into a picturesque eating experience combining passion, innovation, and care.

“Casey is a fearless entrepreneur and genuine innovator. Engineering is in his DNA,” Kevin tells me. “Hard work and commitment built this company, so my responsibilities are ones that I take seriously. When Casey asked me to take over the company, I was humbled. I knew he would not hand it over to just anyone.”

As President and CEO, Kevin oversees the overall operation of the Houweling’s Group of Companies. Between the pages of his career, Kevin is now leading the Houweling’s brand with over 25 years of sales, marketing, retail merchandising, and executive management in the North American and European greenhouse industries. Kevin’s own portfolio has been rounded out with an astounding lineup of buy-side and supply-side experience from names like BC Hot House, The Greenery BV, and other North American retailers and brands.

“Hiring two of the greenhouse industry’s leaders was a major step forward for us, and allowed us to focus on commercial and horticultural activities in a way that we never have before,” Kevin says of Mike and Arie.

Aerial view of Camarillo, California facilityArie serves as the engineer of the company’s boots-on-the-ground growing practices. Drawing on over 30 years of greenhouse experience in North America and the Netherlands, a country with one of the highest concentrations of greenhouse facilities in the world, Arie’s foundational role serves to boost Houweling’s plant vitality and yield growth. Arie first learned horticultural practices while growing up in the Netherlands, and has since perfected his craft with experience from lead grower positions at Village Farms and Backyard Farms, in addition to operations from his native shores.

“It’s been an exciting time to join Houweling’s, with so many positive changes within the company,” Arie says. “We are committed to quality, and when you taste our ‘Signature Selection’ product line, it shows!”

For Mike, he assures me, joining the Houweling’s team was an easy choice. “I worked with Kevin a few times before, so I knew the type of team environment he would foster. I wanted to be a part of that team,” he says.

With 20 years of sales experience gleaned from other greenhouse brands, and time spent in executive roles with North American distributors and shippers, Mike’s approaching his new role fixated on perfecting Houweling’s direct to retail sales strategy while leading new customer acquisition initiatives.

It's never simply about selling our products.

- Mike Reed

“My time spent in retail merchandising and buying has shaped my current approach,” Mike discloses. “It's never simply about selling our products. Instead, we think about category solutions, business building and ensuring our total offer is on-trend. This extends beyond products into service and added value through the entire process.”

Keeping consumers coming back for Houweling’s flavor doesn’t come just from an executive team, however. Kevin emphasizes that the mindset behind Houweling’s reputation comes just as equally from the individuals in all departments, whether they are pruning, picking, packing, shipping, or doing any number of the tasks that are required to operate a business. The supportive team culture behind the brand is instrumental as the company raises its pillars of timeless success.

“We’re immensely proud of our Equitable Food Initiative certification,” he says. “Being named as ‘Farmworker Assured’ was a very rewarding achievement. It is something that I feel strongly about and squares with our company’s social conscience.”

From a strong core team, unparalleled experience, and revolutionary treatment of greenhouse growing practices, Houweling’s seems undeterred from its dedication to riding the edge of ingenuity. And with new trends emerging to potentially reshape the North American greenhouse landscape, the team is committed to cementing the Houweling’s name even further into the halls of innovation.

So, with the foundation for its brand laid and anchored, is Houweling’s done raising its own bar in the greenhouse sector? Not even close.