You could say that was my husband’s opening line when he and I first started dating, now more than 30 years ago. Paul is an agricultural engineer by training, and comes from a family of gardeners. His stated ambition might not have been such a surprise, but as a city girl and art historian, I certainly wasn’t ready to start rolling up my sleeves straight away – it took a little while longer for that sales pitch to work!

Precisely what it was that Paul wanted to do wasn’t immediately clear, and over the next few years, he suggested several different business ideas. From carnivorous plants to lettuce and herbs, ultimately arriving at tomatoes

We bought a barren field in 1995, with grand plans for it.


Stoffels Tomatoes was founded in the same year, in the midst of a severe tomato crisis. Amidst the noise of peers telling us that we were crazy, we sought start-up capital and took a major leap of faith.

‘Invest against the tide!’ was Paul’s motto when he put up 2.5 hectares of glass in Rijkevorsel. He was ultimately proved right and after a first successful year of growing, put in a permit application to double the size of the nursery. The business came to be known as innovative, and we endeavoured to respond with agility to the needs of the market from the very outset. We were one of the first to start with vine tomatoes and in 2004, one of the first to grow speciality tomatoes that you can still find on the shelves today, like Toma’rito and Toma’tapas.

From the very outset our focus was on establishing a sustainable business and we committed to always choose eco-friendly solutions whenever doing so was economically viable. We were well ahead of the industry as a whole when we purchased our first CHP engine in 1997, which quickly allowed us to shift away from heavy fuel oil.

We went off exploring several times a year. When we came across new varieties and trends, we tested them thoroughly in our greenhouses. Numerous Stoffels tomato concepts found their way to the market and have now become permanent fixtures. We launched the Toma’box and pioneered yellow tomatoes under the ‘2mates’ brand – both of which can still be found on Belgian shop shelves, fifteen years later.

By 2011, the business had already grown to an area of eleven hectares. In the years that followed, we entered into partnerships that saw our production area grow to more than 30 hectares.


Paul Stoffels
It all started with strong roots, ready to bear fruits. (Bottom right, Paul Stoffels in his parents’ greenhouse)
Father and mother Stoffels were known as growers of high-quality chrysanthemums.


In Belgium, all horticultural businesses are affiliated with a sales cooperative that takes care of the marketing of agricultural and horticultural products. As a business, we have always had a strong sense of direction in terms of market-oriented growing and selling, and so in 2015 we took the logical step of leaving the auction system. We went solo, restructured the business and established our own sales and marketing department. It was a major about-turn and yet another leap of faith. We went into the new year holding our breath, but our customers stayed loyal and we were given the space to offer new varieties and concepts along a much shortened chain. Straight from the producer to the shop shelves, our produce continued to find favour both at home and abroad. Our first success in brand establishment crossed over to foreign countries and our pampered Toma’dor, the king of flavour, quickly charmed German consumers.

As in many industries, we had begun to see a strong consolidation movement over recent years. Mastodonic businesses with a focus on production and cost began to emerge, but that was not Stoffel’s ambition. We were aiming for high quality, flavour and innovation – but the need to grow production was still there. In the meantime, we had begun to supply tomatoes to sixteen European countries.


In 2018, we involved investors so that we could gain some financial clout and professionalise the business yet further with a view to a large new-build construction project. But permit problems blocked our path, and the new construction was not an immediate success. We needed to be highly creative in upscaling our business and contract growers stepped in to pick up the slack. Everything was still being grown to Stoffels specifications with our selected top varieties and a focus on circular flows in production.

The years that followed were turbulent, and it seemed like every Biblical plague that there was came after us all at once. We now know that the power is in the people.

Paul and Petra present new plastic-free packaging.
The young management team under the watchful eye of Paul and Petra.

The longevity of our relationships has proved to be remarkable. Trading with retail is not easy, but we have still managed to establish loyal relationships, many of which have lasted for 20 years or more. We have always found their faith in us to be extremely valuable.

Secretly, I sometimes suspect that the managers at some of the places we visited probably had a good old laugh after Paul and I had showed up – again – with our own prototype packaging or a taste story explaining how we could always push the brix up by another point.

The largest boost for the business has without doubt been the development and growth of a fantastic and motivated young management team. Their drive and appetite to carry and continue to grow the business with us into the future is extremely high. Thinking is creative, problems are translated into opportunities and their enthusiasm is contagious, which is clearly palpable throughout the business.

30 years ago, we started out as a traditional family horticultural business, but is that model suitable for the future? A horticultural business is increasingly seen as a ‘going concern’ – an organisation that assumes that it will continue its activities indefinitely, or at a minimum until it has met its ambitious targets.... And that is what we will do, but with family values.