Six years ago, Domitille Hue took over the family business in the Médoc, near Bordeaux. Although she seemed destined for other horizons, after the retirement of her father, the young woman entered the world of asparagus. And she doesn’t want to leave him. A true autodidact with an entrepreneurial spirit, Domitille breathed new life into the Domaine de Coutin with numerous innovations.
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The company currently has three plots of asparagus. The first of 11 hectares was planted in 2014 and the second, which extends over 10 hectares, in 2016. The harvest of both plots is marketed through the Maïsadour cooperative. In 2017, a third 9-hectare plot of asparagus was incorporated, whose cultivation, harvesting and marketing are managed independently. For example, a packing station and farm store have recently been built near the plot.
Good staff management
Domitille knows that good people management is essential to realizing the company’s ambitions. While in the past the businesswoman had to deal with the problems that the horticultural sector traditionally encounters in terms of personnel, today she works with trained, loyal and qualified employees. “For several years we have been working with a network of Spanish seasonal workers who come to carry out the asparagus campaign after the harvest and the olives. It is a difficult job, very physical, that requires rigor and a certain know-how. Therefore, it is essential that workers are well cared for and receive compensation commensurate with the effort made.”
As Europeans, Spanish seasonal workers are paid according to the requirements of French regulations. The team leader is responsible for recruiting. Employee groups are usually made up of people from the same family or circle of friends. “It is important that there is a good atmosphere, because the temporary workers are together 24 hours a day for 3 months. We also try to have approximately the same number of men and women, because a group of women is often better managed than if it is only made up of men, but they themselves are the ones who decide how to organize themselves to feel the best possible and thus be able to also work in optimal conditions”.
It is a system in which everyone feels good. Because a competent, responsible and loyal team can only benefit the harvest, both in terms of volume and quality. “Some of them can, so to speak, stab the asparagus blind. Over the seasons they have accumulated such experience that they also think along with us. They feel appreciated and are always happy when they can return next season.”
Today, seasonal workers are paid by the hour, but Domitille plans to switch to salaries per kilo that can be sold: “It is a very interesting system because it allows seasonal workers to earn more and at the same time improve the quality of the asparagus harvested.” .” it can be better.” With this system, other producers have seen the percentage of class II asparagus drop from 40% to 15%, which represents an important added value for a company.
A new packing station
Last year, Domitille inaugurated a new packing station on the farm to be able to pack the asparagus from the plot that was planted in 2017 on site.
With this initiative, the company has become a major employer, employing up to 40 people during the season. The investment also makes it possible to offer customers very fresh asparagus: “Once picked, the asparagus is immersed in water at a temperature of 1°C. It is pre-washed and cooled to block further growth. This is especially important with a for a good storage. The Maïsadour crop leaves immediately by truck, while the asparagus from our third plot goes directly to the packing station.”
New sales channels: more direct and in tune with the times
Another Domitille initiative is the creation of an agricultural store for direct sales. “It works very well and everyone is happy with it. By cutting out the middleman we can offer our customers a fresher and cheaper product. It is also a way to offer other local products such as eggs, strawberries or even spreads”.
Domitille offers a wide range of asparagus to meet all needs. From class I white and green asparagus to products with minor defects for the less affluent. With direct sales, the value of the production, which this year is of a particularly high quality, is even better reflected. “Due to the cold of winter, we have very high quality asparagus, both in taste and appearance. We have a majority of large sizes and very regular asparagus. The only concern is that we have large production spikes like now. right now manage both at the harvest and at the point of sale.”
Christelle, who organizes direct sales, and Domitille
But Domitille wants to go further in the service she offers her customers, investing in a machine that peels the asparagus automatically. A small revolution that will not go unnoticed and that will save the consumer valuable time…
While the farm store is very successful, the closure has proven to be an opportunity for the company to further diversify its sales channels. “The corona years have stimulated us to find solutions to get asparagus to our customers. For example, we did home deliveries, which we recently replaced with a different system.” Asparagus from Domaine de Coutin is now transported every Friday to a point in the city of Bordeaux where it can be picked up by customers. This service is highly appreciated in times when fuel prices encourage you to leave your car in the garage and opt for public transport, cycling or walking.
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For more information:
33121 Carcans (France)
Telephone: +33 (0)6 22 03 62 80