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How Rotterdam’s food cluster fosters innovation, sustainability, profitability

How the Rotterdam Food Cluster is staying at the forefront of the food industry through public-private cooperation.

How the sector will make money in 30 years was the question posed by Sharon Janmaat, food cluster project manager for the City of Rotterdam, during her presentation at the first ever Amsterdam Produce Show, held last November 2-4.

“And what will we need for that in terms of innovation, circularity and digital developments?” she asked.

That is where the Rotterdam Food Cluster comes in. An initiative of the City of Rotterdam, it was set up to create room, facilitate business ideas and accelerate growth so the area can maintain its leading position in food amidst an industry changing under the influence of technological innovation and more awareness of the depletion of natural resources. “We want to move towards a sustainable and resilient economic future,” Janmaat said.

Rotterdam’s unique location is ideal for a cluster

The region has a very high concentration of relevant businesses, research institutions and universities. It is one of few places in the world where all the links in the food chain are within a 30 km radius. About 6,100 food companies – including leading multinational companies such as Unilever, Rijk Zwaan and DSM- are located in this area, employing about 43,000 people and generating annual turnover of over €24 billion.

It is also home to the Port of Rotterdam, the world’s second largest importer of fresh food, Europe’s largest deep sea port and the gateway to over 500 million people. All this combined makes for the world’s leading food production area, Janmaat said. Now the challenge is to maintain that lead in the global food economy in the current economic climate.

The proximity of so many companies in the same chain creates a base for forming clusters and forging both physical and relational links between those clusters. “It is about gaining knowledge and participating in networks,” said Janmaat. “To be able to keep doing what we stand for and for the chain to keep the influence it already has, we are creating the most innovative world food park that is resilient, sustainable, circular as well as profitable.”

Collective innovations

Innovation will be the key to maintain the sector’s success. Janmaat observes that the sector is successful but mainly innovates at a company level. “We want to initiate innovation projects that require more collectivity,” she said.

As a cluster, the companies are able to work together to estimate and share risks effectively, and to make investments in joint benefits. The City of Rotterdam aims to be a trustworthy partner in this process. Janmaat is employed by the city but transcends municipality borders to initiate, connect and create conditions for innovation in the food chain within the region against the backdrop of what is a one-off public-private cooperation.

Data sharing

The focus of the region is on four core themes, one of which is in the field of smart logistics. This industry is very data driven and Janmaat observes that currently a lot of data is not shared. She is convinced data sharing will lead to more sustainable transport as well as greater profitability.

However many companies are reluctant to share data due to the sensitivity of the information it reveals. Data encryption can be a solution. “We are investigating how we can do that and how we can help those companies to evolve towards smart logistics,” Janmaat said. The aim is to get the commitment of stakeholders that are willing to invest in a pilot project.

Another area that has to deal with sensitive information and data sharing is human capital. The Rotterdam Food Cluster seeks to create a human capital pool that combines flexibility and a steady workforce.

Janmaat sees that many of the large flexible workforce that are employed by food companies often have very little connection to the company or the industry they are working in.

“We are investigating new ways of contracting that create a steady pool of people who have the network, knowledge and experience to add value to the company that employs them,” Janmaat said.

Connected to this field of interest work needs to be done on encryption, so companies can safely access the pool, a legal base for the flexible use of the steady pool and a human resource management system that will enable education.

Tennis balls that last longer & other ways to use waste

The depletion of natural resources does make the industry look in different ways and brings about a search for new business models. Sometimes those can be found in the valorisation of waste flows. Such as the producer of tennis balls who found that the balls can be used 10 times longer if they are exposed to a certain biogas that is derived from fresh waste flows. The main goals for the region now are to identify the waste flows and invest in new technology that is needed to unlock the value of fresh waste.

Although sustainable energy has been on the agenda for quite some time already and the sector is aware that investments in sustainable energy are needed, the focus of the Rotterdam Food Cluster is on the collectivity in this area too. “We seek to create a structure in which food companies can be shareholder and not only customers,” said Janmaat. “This way the production of sustainable energy can become part of their business model.” This requires investigation into energy production and creating a legal basis for stakeholders to become shareholders.

Although the initiative is firmly underway and the lines are plotted, a lot of work remains to be done. And that is the key to the Rotterdam Food Cluster. “We aim to encourage working together,” Janmaat said.

Image: Sharon Janmaat during her presentation at the Amsterdam Produce Show

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The largest modern European market on the outskirts of Moscow

Food City, the first Russian agricultural cluster located at the edge of Moscow (ring road), has been operating for a year.

Food City, the first Russian agricultural cluster, located at the edge of Moscow (ring road), has been operating for a year now.

It covers an area of 91 ha, and almost a third of the fresh food products in Moscow are sold through this site today.

“Moscow has already received more than 800,000 tons of fresh food from 52 Russian regions and 26 foreign countries through Food City. Food safety and prices are strictly monitored, so, it is a real working mechanism to ensure food security for the city,” said Moscow’s mayor Sergey Sobyanin after his visit to the cluster.

As for the sellers, they name two major advantages of Food City compared to other outlets. First, one can not only see, but also try the product before buying it. Second, the site has become a significant tool for Russian processors, who are implementing the import substitution policy.

Despite the significant amount of foreign contracts, most of the food sold there is of Russian origin. Food City is preparing to open its own customs terminal. This event is certainly a landmark, for it will accelerate the process of food penetration onto the retail shelves.

“We have all the necessary control systems, including ones for background radiation control,” said Alexei Nemeryuk, head of the Moscow Department of Trade and Services. There are also special rooms for storing and inspecting product quality in terms of some other parameters.

Food City in figures:

  • 10,000 customers daily
  • 3,000 sellers, including 26 foreign ones
  • 346,000 m2 of retail space
  • 300,000 m2 of modern warehouses
  • 30,880 m2 of offices

This article appeared on page 31 of issue 142 (March/April 2016) of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read that edition online here.

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Rotterdam Cool Port gets underway

Kloosterboer and the Port of Rotterdam Authority are investing in the start of a new cold storage cluster on the City Terminal site in the Waalhaven/Eemhaven: Rotterdam Cool Port. Kloosterboer is setting up a new cold store, specialised in the storage and handling of refrigerated and frozen cargo in reefer containers. Complementary services, such as empty depots and food inspection, will be added in the future.

Kloosterboer and the Port of Rotterdam Authority are investing in the start of a new cold storage cluster on the City Terminal site in the Waalhaven/Eemhaven: Rotterdam Cool Port.

Kloosterboer is setting up a new cold store, specialised in the storage and handling of refrigerated and frozen cargo in reefer containers. Complentary services, such as empty depots and food inspection, will be added  in the future.

“We are extremely proud about the start of Rotterdam Cool Port. We, as a port, have much experience in the cold storage sector and Rotterdam Cool Port is a valuable expansion of operations in this field,” said Ronald Paul, COO at the Port of Rotterdam Authority.

“As this location has many multimodal connections with the container cluster on the Maasvlakte as well as all surrounding Greenports and the final destinations in Europe, Cool Port will make a real contribution to the sustainability and efficiency of the supply chain for fresh produce,” he said.

Operational in 2017

Construction is due to start early next year on the cold store and the layout of the Kloosterboer site. The company is purchasing 5 ha with the option to expand in the future. The terminal is expected to become operational in the course of 2017, with a capacity of 40,000 temperature-controlled pallet spaces to handle at least 400,000 pallets a year.

There is an additional 14,500 m2 approx. to accommodate various services such as packing, sorting and cross-docking. “We are very pleased to have the opportunity to set up business at Cool Port. Here, we want to offer our clients the highest possible level of service in the perishable goods sector, via a state-of-the-art terminal,” said Kloosterboer CEO Hans Kroes.

Unique combination

The combination of location and cold storage facility makes Rotterdam Cool Port attractive, the port said in a press release. “Thanks to the location, shippers will no longer need to transport cargo from the terminal to the cold store, so that import and export costs can be substantially reduced. As Rotterdam Cool Port is being developed directly adjacent to container terminals, it will be possible to make optimum use of reefer container equipment. In addition, Rotterdam occupies a prominent position in the cold storage sector because the port serves as the first port of call in Europe for many shipping companies. Speed is crucial for perishable goods. Consequently, a whole range of specialised firms and temperature-controlled storage facilities have established themselves in Rotterdam and the surrounding area through the years,” it said.


The Province and the Municipality have both granted a subsidy for the redevelopment of a large part of the Eemhaven, with the cool port considered a good use of the newly vacant land. The Province is also contributing towards the access-related infrastructure, in the interests of the Greenports. In addition, it will have a positive impact on employment in the area. It is expected that about 100 people will be working there by 2017.