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Nicolai Fruit: further expansion for premium quality


The Belgian exporter is celebrating its 20 years in the trade by increasing both its export and import activities. Thanks to strong ties with growers and cooperatives, the company keeps expanding its offer to customers in soft fruits, top fruit and vegetables. “Our clients are retailers, importers and wholesalers and they count on us to supply not only fresh produce but also tailor-made and cost-saving solutions, innovative ideas and new products. Thanks to our experience, we help our clients retain their edge against their competitors, while we keep up our range of premium Belgian produce to keep sales volumes growing year-on-year”, explains Commercial Manager Johan de Gendt. Originally focused on the Nordic markets, Nicolai Fruit has broadened its portfolio substantially in the major European markets like UK, Germany, Ireland and Spain and more recently also in Russia and Kazakhstan.  “We are also looking into new destinations in the Middle East, thanks to greatly improved logistic options from Belgium to that area”, says Johan. As to its star products, Johan states: “Our sweet and aromatic Belgian strawberries are of course still hugely popular, while our conference pears, chicory and white asparagus are really great products in my opinion. However, what I think has been vastly underrated in Europe in recent years is the quality of Belgian sweet cherries, so we will put some extra energy into marketing these cherries in 2014!”Apart from its growing export branch, Nicolai fruit is also expanding its offer of imported produce in order to supply their clients with a wider array of non-Belgian products. “Some clients might not always need big volumes of Southern-European or Southern-Hemisphere produce. Thanks to Belgium’s central location, we try to serve as a provider and hub for them for these items”, concludes Johan. The company complies with HACCP, IFS Higher Level, Belgian Food Safety Autocontrol and GlobalGAP protocols since 2006.  

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Bel’Orta has the widest assortment


Tomato and endive specialties are the major vegetable successes.

Bel’Orta today provides a full assortment of Belgian products since the merger with Borgloon Veiling this January, thanks to its large supply of apples, pears and strawberries. “At Saint-Katelijne, we also have a unique logistics organization with suppliers throughout the supply chain from packaging, transport and agriculture,” explains Jo Lambrecht. The organization’s trade balance for 2013 came to 350,000 tons, with over 200 items. After a very difficult year for tomatoes, Bel’Orta has decided to increase its product range of specialty varieties for 2014. “We are increasing our assortment of tomatoes” confirms Jo Lambrecht, the organization’s sales director.
“Cocktello” is the latest item for 2014. They are 35 to 40 gram loose tomatoes packed in 500 gram punnets. The largest items among Bel’Orta tomato specialties so far have been cherry and cocktail varieties, coeur-de-boeuf, San Marzano, Intense® and snacking tomatoes. Every line has a larger portfolio for 2014: San Marzano varieties now have a new packaging line and a new assortment, with 3kg boxes, 4kg Europool boxes and 6Kg boxes in one lay. The Intense® variety is supplied in 6kg boxes and also bags. Since 2013, sweet pink tomatoes have been available with the full range of round, plum, cherry and baby vine varieties, packed in 3 to 6 kg boxes or punnets. Coeur-de-boeuf are segmented into 3 sizes and delivered in 3 formats, whereas Mini Star cocktail tomatoes are packed in 4 kg boxes and also in trays with small boxes. Cherry Star vine tomatoes come in 3 kg boxes. “Tom-X” shakers are a mix of yellow, orange and red cherry tomatoes. “Pearl Tomatoes” weigh just one gram and are packed in 125 gram trays. “Vit-a-Shake” shakers contain 250 grams of cherry plum tomatoes, now available in a bucket of 500 grams. Tomarron is a beef type of tasty brown tomatoes. “Papritom” are pepper-shaped cocktail tomatoes that are deliciously sweet and available in 3 kg loose boxes.
Among the other increasingly popular specialties in the salad vegetable segment are the snack cucumbers “Donna” in mini (100 to 200 grams) and midi (150 to 250 grams) formats; the courgette de nice (round zucchini) and zucchini flowers, with 6 to 24 pieces a package; yellow courgettes, with sales improving in the category every year; “Chic’o Red” red endives; “Piccantina” truly hot peppers, ideal for chili con carne; Angello sweet peppers, sold in 100 g shakers and a 1 kg box; and multicolored rootballs of 3 types of lettuces, with bionda, rossa and red leaves, creating a unique mix and longer shelf-life. In the organic segment, Bel’Orta does not disappoint, with items in every category, even tomato specialties like cherry and baby plum. The main organic items sold are leaf and root vegetables, endives, carrots, cauliflowers, broccoli, zucchini, fennel, apples, pears and strawberries. One of Bel’Orta’s organic growers produces 60 ha of open-field organic berries with the full range of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwiberries, red and white currants, gooseberries, loganberries, tayberries and even pepino melons. 
Tailored convenience items for food service
Bel’Orta also supports its specialized division in supplying the convenience sector, increasing the number of items and services. The aim is to respond to the specific needs of professionals in food service with different preparations and varieties. Among the items in most demand are sliced coeur-de-boeuf or non-dripping plum tomatoes (Intense®), easy-to-cut iceberg lettuces, stem-removed tomatoes, stemless runner beans, cleaned broccoli and cauliflower florets and Brussels sprouts, as well as a full range of fresh herbs. “We have convenience solutions for every product item we sell,” explains Jo. The success of this concept is possible thanks to specific organization in the entire supply chain. “Our convenience line requires specific variety selection by our agriculture department and the use of different packagings and logistics”. 
Endives, the Belgian product
Endives are another of the Belgian group’s major product commodities, with 26 to 27 million kilos sold every year. While export markets are normally supplied with only one item, the domestic market enjoys a full range of 6 or 7 items. “We have started to promote our endive assortment abroad, too, and we have a different type for every kind of use,” explains Jo. The popular ones include the “Dik Lang” or the long, thick long product, also considered to be a premium item due to its small axis inside. There is also the “Short Thin” variety (ideal for salads), the traditional “Ground” endive, cultivated in the soil (others are hydroponic), the “Mini” endive for haute cuisine (also sold increasingly in supermarkets for cooking), the “Chic’O Red” endive (bicolor with nice purple leaves), organic endives and of course the extra class “Export” endive with its smaller axis and ideal leaf shape.
Bel’Orta: elite coeur-de-boeuf producer
Sold under the “Specialty Street” brand, coeur-de-boeuf tomatoes are one of Bel’Orta’s major specialty items in fruit and vegetables. Flanders provides ideal growing conditions with stable temperatures and fewer hot days, since this is a very sensitive variety. “Our premium quality makes us successful with exports, even in distant markets like Russia, Spain and Portugal,” says Wim Vertommen, from one of Bel’Orta’s largest growers. Planted at the end of January for long-cycle cultivation in a 1,600 m2 modern greenhouse, they are harvested from the end of March until December. “We manage to harvest 30 to 35 bouquets in the entire season.” Every piece of fruit is harvest by hand and packed in the greenhouse. The 3 items come to: 92+, 70+ and 60+. “No secondary quality is sold,” Wim points out, since all the coeur de boeuf tomatoes are marketed under Flandria brands. Wim Vertommen’s company grows a total of 6 ha. They have invested in the best growing conditions with the most modern glass greenhouses (because of the specially treated glass, more than 95% of the light passes through), biological growing techniques (with the use of auxiliary insects in cooperation with Koppert), as well as advanced, sustainable systems like full recycling of irrigation water. “Our goal is to grow the healthiest, tastiest products in the most sustainable way,” explains Wim. He selects the varieties with the best eating qualities for consumers, since all their produce is marketed under the Flandria and Bel’Orta brands. “We are also segmenting by color according to the customers’ orders: the red ones for the domestic market, the greener ones for Southern or Eastern Europe,” Wim adds.