Zsolt Márkus, Founder and Managing Director

When you buy Veresi Paradicsom’s tomatoes today, you can be sure that you are getting a delicious, nutrient-rich and quality product, grown using cutting-edge methods and under state-of-the-art conditions.

The Founder and Managing Director, Zsolt Márkus, had a career in the world of multinationals, but his next career step would have been in a far-off country, and it was important to him that his children did not grow up as rootless global citizens. He also wanted to feel that he was creating value, that his work had a “goodness factor”. As he says, “making money is easy, making money well is harder”. He was also attracted by the challenge to show that he could succeed as an entrepreneur. “What motivates me is to always be outside my comfort zone, otherwise I get bored with my life”.

Agribusiness was totally outside his comfort zone, but the advantage was that here you don’t have to compete with cheap goods from the Far East and Asia. It was also a good thing that an entrepreneur sold his greenhouse project company at a bargain price in 2014, as he was unable to realise his plans by the end of the year.

EU aid was available for the hydroponic cultivation of tomatoes, peppers, paprikas or cucumbers, and Zsolt Márkus decided to grow tomatoes after thorough market research, because both the risk analysis and the business development survey showed that it was the right decision in terms of production security and marketability under the market conditions of the time. He then studied the cultivation technology personally, also as a “green worker” in the Netherlands. He also acquired the missing horticultural knowledge through a Dutch consultant.

The technological innovation was a given due to the call for tenders, and the ideal location was found in Veresegyház, where, thanks to the 100% recirculated thermal water system, heating, one of the biggest costs, was reduced to a competitive level and the operation itself was made reliable.

The owner of the company, which has been operating under the name Veresi Paradicsom Kft. since 2017, has not only innovated in the way of cultivation by using hydroponic technology, unique in Hungary, for cultivating 365 days a year, where the roots do not take up the necessary nutrients from the ground, but from coconut cushions. They have also broken with tradition by consciously using biological pest control to grow almost entirely chemical-free crops: crop protection is supported with natural substances, beneficial insects, and a hygiene protocol of a high standard, and chemical protection is only used when absolutely necessary, and then still only with robotic technology that can deliver the chemical only to the affected area. It is no coincidence that they have been awarded the Mother Earth Award for Biological Plant Protection, the only one of its kind in the region.

State-of-the-art technology is of course matched by the best seeds, but Veresi Paradicsom has managed to join the Piccolo Club of the world’s best tomato nurseries, where only the best can obtain seeds.

VeresiParadicsom info_ENG

In 2015, Veresi Paradicsom was still producing exclusively for export, then in 2016 Zsolt Márkus went to Spain to see how the cheap tomatoes flooding the European market were grown, and was shocked by what he found: outdated cultivation technology, unbelievable hygiene conditions, and chemical exposure; as Zsolt Márkus says, “I decided then that I would not eat any more imported vegetables in winter”.

He then decided to try to replace at least part of the typically winter imports with healthy tomatoes grown in Hungary. His in-depth understanding of the market has also shown that there is a consumer demand for quality products, but there is not an adequate production and supply chain. They in turn selected better and better seeds, seeing that fresh tomatoes of high quality and high nutritional value are not available in Hungary from late autumn to spring.

Therefore, they built a new greenhouse for winter cultivation, where artificial lighting is used to help the plants grow, even in poor light conditions. Besides this innovation, the founding owner has taken another major risk by terminating his contract with the foreign distributor so that he can now sell 100% of the produce himself, instead of the previous 5%. As an absolute newcomer with an absolutely new brand name, it was not easy to get into the supermarket chains, but order quantities multiplied in just a few weeks.

The business was launched in 2014 with HUF 100 million of Zsolt Márkus’s accumulated assets and HUF 600 million from a venture capitalist. We are now talking about a company with a turnover of HUF 1.5 billion, equity of almost HUF 500 million, employing more than 50 people and with an EBITDA generating capacity of over 20%, which is not typical for the agricultural sector. While in the beginning they cultivated 32,000 square metres in one greenhouse, today they have 63,000 square metres in three greenhouses. A total of approximately 240,000 tomato plants are now grown in Veresegyház. If we wanted to see all the plants, i.e. every row in the greenhouses, we would have to walk more than 43 km. In winter, they produce around 1,000 tonnes, which is 100% import substitution, and the annual production is 2,000 tonnes, depending on the variety of tomatoes currently grown. They currently have five wholesale varieties and are experimenting with 2-3 varieties.

According to Zsolt Márkus, one of the secrets of the company’s success is that it has built its strategy from a business rather than an agricultural perspective, with technological responsiveness and brand building through innovative business development techniques being the most important elements. This is closely linked to 21st century core values such as sustainability, environmental protection and so-called clean farming, with the aim of achieving circular farming.

The company is conducting joint research with Szent István University to investigate the differences between “travelled” and fresh tomatoes. And most recently, the Hungarian Bocuse d’Or Academy put Veresi Paradicsom among the best by choosing them when it turned out that tomatoes were the main ingredient in the finals in Lyon.