In the most recent installment in our Interview of the Month series, we speak to Greenyard Foods CEO Marleen Vaesen.
Is UNIVEG, the fresh segment of Greenyard Foods, still increasing its distribution capacities?
UNIVEG is a vertically integrated leader in the sourcing and supply of high quality fresh fruits & vegetables and controls the entire value chain from sourcing to delivery. With its 31 strategically located distribution centres in Europe, UNIVEG can offer a best-in-class integrated service to its retail customers. UNIVEG has drawn on 60 years of experience in the banana industry to develop one of Europe’s leading ripe and ready-to- eat ranges and meets the growing demands from retail customers. With 500 ripening rooms spread across 8 European countries, UNIVEG is the largest ripener in Europe. We provide the full range of ripe and ready-to-eat fruit – mangoes, avocados, kiwifruit, stonefruit, papayas and pears. We continuously develop and improve the infrastructure of our distribution centres. In Belgium we just opened new ripening rooms at our Belgian distribution centre in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. In India we are developing a joint venture with Mahindra for import activities. On the sourcing side, we are continuing to build a grower network in the northern and southern hemispheres.
What are UNIVEG’s commitments in European produce?
We are pleased with our sourcing partners and continue to work with our existing relations. Our aim is to supply tasty and healthy produce in the right quality, volume and varieties year-round. For instance, our new joint venture with Haspengouw Fruit trading and packing divisions gives us direct access to the ‘Kanzi’ apple variety. Another good example is the acquisition of Empire Trade World in January 2014, helping us to have more local sourcing, too. The main business reasons for this acquisition are in line with UNIVEG’s continued strategic focus and development of the UK market. This is giving us the opportunity to provide an added dimension to our product portfolio and UK market share with UNIVEG’s own production of top fruit as well. As a vertically integrated fresh produce global player, UNIVEG has the ability to consistently supply first-rate products through its unrivalled growers’ network and first-class provision service teams. With 40 companies spread across five continents, our group traded more than two million tons of fresh fruit and vegetables to customers on six continents in 2015.
How is UNIVEG multiplying direct initiatives with consumers and farmers?
With the launch of the new “On-the-go” smaller formats like blueberry buckets and new ready-to-eat tropical fruit, UNIVEG aims to respond to the growing trends of snacking consumption. UNIVEG is also working on many programmes aimed at more sustainable agriculture, both with fruit growers from the Southern Hemisphere and vegetable farmers in Europe. One example is the Grow Bag of the Peltracom, our Growing Media division. With the Grow Bag, Peltracom introduces a truly closed-loop system, bringing sustainability to the greenhouse and reducing the impact on the environment. The Peltracom Grow Bag is a 100% compostable substrate for growing greenhouse vegetables and allows the farmers to replace the substrate based on rockwool. This substrate is produced from sustainable organic raw materials and allows for extremely efficient crop steering with maximum results. Because of its organic nature, the Peltracom Grow Bag contains a perfectly balanced, natural soil life. After use, the Peltracom Grow Bag is composted into a rich soil improver. Peltracom that has more than 1000 substrates and was also present at the UNIVEG booth at Fruit Logistica. UNIVEG is also involved with food chain programmes in different countries with both Bayer CropSciences and Syngenta in order to help farmers locally (like in India) to develop sustainable agriculture and comply with the requirements of European retailers as per residue limits in particular. We have also started a breeding programme in cooperation with Rijk Zwaan in order to find vegetable varieties that are more sustainable and more suited to the needs of new consumers.
Is UNIVEG very active in the social sphere too?
The CSR activities of the UNIVEG Group such as the “Giving Back” social programme and “Be Fruitful” campaign carried out in the US by our company Seald Sweet International are good examples. The “Giving Back” concept is not new at the Florida company; it has been running fund-raising promotions to benefit US military families through the Fisher House Foundation since 2008 with summer citrus. Since 2010, Seald Sweet has also participated in fair trade programmes with their South African growers. Then in 2013, Seald Sweet launched the “Be Fruitful” campaign to fully integrate the act of giving into the company’s activities. The CSR project challenges the Seald Sweet team to give “time, talent and treasure” by getting involved with community organizations and good causes. In South Africa, UNIVEG has worked since 2013 in partnership with the Waitrose Foundation and Waitrose’s grape category manager to implement a programme of long-term shared initiatives. These are aimed at providing social and economic benefits for the community of Môrester Farm, located in the Western Cape of South Africa. One of the initiatives is to build a teaching centre.
Greenyard Group key facts
Presence in 25 countries
Total sales of about €4 billion including:
– €3.2 billion from UNIVEG, Fresh segment of Greenyard Foods: fruit and vegetables.
– €80 million from Peltracom, Segment Growing Media of Greenyard Foods.
– €620 million from the prepared segment including the Frozen and Canned division of Greenyard Foods.
Public listed since 2013 after the merger of the fresh, prepared and growing media segments.
This interview originally appeared on page 17 of edition 142 of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read that issue for free here.