An Agrifood Powerhouse: Small Country with Global Reach Feeds the World

Fueled by world-class research institutes, research universities and public-private partnerships between science, industry and government, the Netherlands is a world leader in agrifood innovation – from farm to fork. As a powerhouse for food, the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, second only to the U.S.

Fifteen out of the top 20 biggest agrifood companies have major production or R&D sites in the Netherlands. These top food companies in the Netherlands include Nestlé, AB InBev, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Heineken, Cargill, and Kraft Heinz. In addition to these food giants, the Netherlands is home to fast-growing innovators like Beyond Meat, Innocent Drinks and Lamb Weston / Meijer. Together, this vast pool of companies and innovators creates an agrifood powerhouse.

The excellent connectivity to Europe and all continents provides access to 244 million consumers within 1,000 kilometers. Pro-business customs processes and strong infrastructure, logistics and distribution network and deep-water ports help transport food products from point A to point B.

Innovation and R&D in agrifood

Agrifood companies not only find customers, but also fertile ground for innovation in the Netherlands. Companies at the frontier of agrifood and agtech innovation develop new technologies like milking or harvesting robots. Other new techniques involve vertical farming and diversifying crops.

The Netherlands is also a global frontrunner in the alternative protein sector, contributing to global solutions for food sustainability and security. The Dutch skillset includes protein production, processing, innovation and logistics, allowing the Netherlands to stimulate the shift towards a restored balance between animal- and alternative (plant-based) proteins.

Together with Dutch research institutes and government, companies work to innovate and create. Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading research facilities looking to revolutionize food production. NIZO supports the growth of companies in sub-sectors like dairy & culture, infant food, and plant-based proteins. To learn more about Dutch developments in plant-based proteins, see the Future Protein NL magazine.

To stimulate innovation, the Dutch government offers competitive research incentives to fuel future agrifood development. The Netherlands also fosters unique public-private partnerships, like the Dairy Campus, that spur on industry advancements. The Dairy Campus was established by Wageningen University & Research and unites farmers, suppliers and processors across the industry. Another example is Brightlands Future Farming Institute, which is using “future farming,” big data and AI to improve food production.

The Netherlands is not without food and agtech accelerators either. Rockstart, HortiHeroes, Yes!Delft and StartLife connect international agrifood startups to research and funding opportunities, while TU Delft’s AgTech Institute uses a tech-driven approach to solving global food challenges.

Sustainable future in the Netherlands

The Netherlands aims to become the global leader in circular agriculture by 2030. This ambition entails a shift from growth in production volumes and cost price reductions towards optimization in resource use and food production, in harmony with nature. The government has published a plan of action to turn this vision into reality.

The policy’s efforts to support circular agriculture are the promotion of precision agriculture and farm innovations, creation of more possibilities for experimentation, rewards for sustainable farming practices and many more.

Agtech plays an important role in sustainability too. Dutch farmers are using precision farming to produce higher yields with less space and resources, and other are reducing water and resources to grow livestock feed. With a lot of the country’s agrifood success starting in the lab, the Netherlands’ Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) researches how digitalization can be used to make agriculture more sustainable. Through industry leaders and research-based organizations like TNO, the Netherlands is proving it will be possible to achieve a sustainable food system and feed our every-growing world.

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