Aat Hoekstra, the founder and owner of the Hoekstra group of businesses, was born in Gravenzande, Holland in 1930. Having lived through the hardship of the Great Depression and the Second World War and equipped with the knowhow to grow table grapes and flowers on the family farm in Holland he decided to travel to South Africa in 1950 to explore the opportunities that presented themselves at the Southern tip of the African continent. The natural beauty, rich soils, abundant water and a climate suitable for the production of excellent table grapes and flowers enchanted the young Aat and he decided to make the village of Paarl, about 60 km North East of Cape Town, his home.
He was able to adapt his European skills to South African conditions under the mentorship of Jan Kirsten, one of the most successful table grape growers in Paarl. His natural talent for both the production and business sides of farming soon enabled him to buy the farm Nancy in 1954. Aat and his his late wife Annaleen raised their two daughters, Maleen and Annette, on Nancy and through blood, sweat, hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit Aat and his family built Hoekstra Fruit Farms into one of the true success stories of agribusiness in South Africa. Production activities on Nancy started out with cut flower production and later on table grapes. As the opportunities presented itself more farms were added to the Hoekstra business – Morewag, Sonneskyn, Westland, Kruis – the list keeps on growing with the latest addition being the farm Estherdal as production unit number 14 during 2016.
Having the typical Dutch DNA in his veins Aat was never in favour of the one channel marketing system under which he had to market all his grapes through Unifruco. Being one of the true pioneers of the grower-exporter initiative in South Africa Aat realised that melons were not controlled under the single market legislation (because a melon is a vegetable and not a fruit) Aat seized the opportunity and started growing melons for the export market from 1970 onwards. He registered the Hoekstra Super Melon brand and started to export melons to the UK and other European markets. Hoekstra Super Melons branded with the red, white and blue colours of the Dutch flag soon became a very sought after product in Europe and the UK. Having established a marketing and logistical network through the Hoekstra Super Melon export business Aat’s daughter, Maleen, negotiated the first private export agreement of a limited amount of boxes of table grapes with the Department of Agriculture. During the summer of 1996 Aat and Maleen Hoekstra started to export Hoekstra Super Grapes to the UK and Europe. The Hoekstra Super Grapes brand was an instant success in the market and the Hoekstra Grapes brand has been the benchmark of superb quality with an excellent eating experience for a number of years in the UK and European markets.
Having had exposure to the enormous variety of cultivars available in the flower business Aat has been on a continuous quest to find improved table grape cultivars. Through the years he has been a true pioneer in finding, testing and commercialising new table grape cultivars. Prime Seedless and Starlight are the most well know cultivars that have been commercialised by Aat in South Africa. This quest is continuing till this day with more than a 100 new cultivars from the Volcani Research Organisation in Israel being tested and evaluated on Aat’s farms through his involvement in the company Plant Genetics of which he is a shareholder.
At the age of 87 Aat Hoekstra is still very active in the business. He is supported by an excellent management team as well as various professionals involved in the Hoekstra Family Trust. Aat’s wish is for the Hoekstra businesses to continue with the work that has been his passion for so many years and to continue his legacy of producing some of the best quality table grapes with the best taste and eating experience available.
Aat’s legacy as a person and his contribution to the South African table grape industry has been monumental and has been recognized by organized agriculture and other industry bodies through the bestowment of various industry awards and tokens of recognition.