After 15 years, Nele Cattoor bids farewell to Belgian fresh produce sector

Nele Cattoor tijdens de opening van het FVPhouse seminar in 2019 (Courtesy:

After 15 years, Nele Cattoor bids farewell to Belgian fresh produce sector

June 28, 2021
Last week, after 15 years, Nele Cattoor left the Belgian fruit and vegetable sector. She's taking on a new challenge. Nele was the Belgian Vegetable Processing Sector Union, Vegebe's general secretary. And Regulatory Affairs Manager at Fresh Trade Belgium and Belgapom. This is the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association.

Nele Cattoor:
“Not an easy decision.”

“But sometimes you just have to take that leap. I'm going to work for Beaulieu. This is a large international player. It produces things like polymers, carpet fibers, and vinyl.”

“It's a completely different branch and so an enormous challenge. I'll be handling compliance & regulatory affairs - quite a mouthful. However, I'll be dealing with legislation the company faces. I need to help figure out how the company can implement it.”

“FVPhouse members, and Vegebe and Belgapom and Fresh Trade Belgium's back-office staff already knew I was leaving. I've received a tremendous number of messages. That makes this bitter-sweet.”

“I had such a wonderful time at FVPhouse. It often didn't even feel like work. It was my passion. Over the years, we've achieved so many great things as a team. One of the nicest aspects for me was the cooperation between companies.”

“These were sometimes even from different countries. But there was no sense of competition. The Carbon Leakage Status for the potato processing industry is a project we completed successfully.”

“It concerned CO2 emission rights, an enormously complex issue. And we brought it to a conclusion. That outcome has saved the industry millions of euros. I'm enormously proud that I, too, contributed to that.”
There weren't only once-off projects but also recurring ones. One of them concerns cadmium, a heavy metal present in spinach cultivation.

Nele Cattoor:
“The government wanted to lower the norm. That would've caused major problems for growers and thus for trade and processing. We were able to ensure that the limits were maintained. We convinced the government using scientific evidence.”

“We never withheld data, even when it worked against us. My experience is this: if you go to the government with an open case, don't hold back anything. Then they're prepared to brainstorm with you to find a solution. Authorities are just doing their job.”

“The industry used to be very reluctant to be open. That's, however, changed considerably in recent years. That's a good thing.”

“It was remarkable that, invariably, problem cases would surface on a Friday afternoon. Then everyone would shout, 'It's Friday afternoon again.' Sometimes you can help someone quickly; sometimes, it takes some time.”
Nele Cattoor:
“There were generally few issues we couldn't solve. But there were times that that's happened. And it hurt. We'd did everything we could but to no avail. When we couldn't help someone, it would be a low point for us too.”

“There were only four of us in the office. Despite that, it felt like we worked for a huge company. We'd have very regular meetings with people in the sector.”

“And after 15 years, you built true relationships with these people. Some people have become friends; I'll genuinely miss them. Of course, there are also those I won't miss, but that's always the case. I'd like to tell the sector that there are still plenty of opportunities.”

“You just have to be willing to see them. However, the sector will also face considerable challenges. I've repeated it ad nauseam: Vegebe is a professional federation, not a production company.”

“Let them know what's going on; otherwise, they won't be able to keep their ears open either. A federation gives you what you contribute to it. Feed them information, and you'll get a lot in return.”
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