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Holland offers a unique approach to produce and logistics


“If you are a logistics provider in one of the busiest ports in the world, efficiency can become a key factor in the operational process.” So says Antonio Oken, managing director of Opticool. Located right in the heart of Rotterdam Port, this company is a good example of a logistics operator dedicated to stevedoring, fresh logistics and fresh packing. It has made it its mission to keep things basic and transparent. “Logistics is logical thinking. It has to be straightforward because that reduces costs and increases quality,” Oken said. The launch of innovative, cost-reducing ideas is paramount in this process. “We want to remain a pioneer in the logistics process.” One way of doing just that is to use inland shipping between the Rotterdam deep sea terminals and the ports of Nieuw Mathenesse, where Opticool is located, instead of trucks. This method enables quicker handling of the containers since waiting times at the terminal and traffic jams are avoided. The environment benefits from this way of transportation, too. Depending on the terminal from which the journey starts, ECT or Delta, a reduction in CO2 emissions of 84% and 57% cent respectively is accomplished as well as a 40% reduction in freight movement. “In our green business operations, the use of inland shipping is of great importance in promoting our organisation-wide vision.” Oken said.

Unburdening the supplier and retail buyer

“We focus on unburdening our customers. The Rotterdam port is a platform into Europe that everyone can join. It’s our job to organise the logistics process as fast, as cheaply and as well as possible for the people using this platform,” says Antonio Oken. Having started only 10 year ago, Opticool has created a young, flexible team and is now firmly established as one of the leading service providers in the field of fresh fruit storage and handling in the port of Rotterdam. From its premises in the port, with a capacity of 19,000 m² of refrigerated storage spread over 20 cold rooms and a total of 27 dock shelters, Opticool offers a full range of logistics services from the arrival of the goods in the ports of Rotterdam or Antwerp until the time of delivery. “As soon as your containers arrive at one of our 20 cold stores, the fruit is checked for temperature, packaging and general quality. Then, by way of a unique barcode, the pallets are registered in Opticool’s warehouse management system, linking our unique pallets’ ID to its own pallet ID. This enables full tracking and tracing of any pallet,” Oken explained. Since last year, Opticool has also been a proud member of the Agromerchant Group from the US.

More market stability for Dutch produce

Johan Hensen, managing director of Haluco, one of the leading Dutch growers and exporters’ organisations, looks back on a reasonably good season. “2015 was a positive year. From the spring to July we had more exports,” he said. And he predicts a positive future for the Dutch horticultural sector; thanks in part to innovation. “Dutch growers are leading the way in innovation and quality upgrades. We are still amazed by them,” Hensen said. Another field of innovation is improvement in supply chain management. Thinking about how the chain changes and connecting with customers’ wishes is becoming increasingly important. An additional bright point for the future is the increasing balance between supply and demand. “The flows sold in Eastern Europe are becoming more sustained and there is more structure in the sales. The demands that purchasers make call for a long-term relationship with growers, too. That creates stability.” 

New markets for peppers and tomatoes

In terms of produce, besides bulk products like block peppers, which take up 90% of production, and the larger vine tomato, there is increased demand for the sweet pointed pepper and the finer segments of tomatoes. Haluco sells its fresh produce all over Europe and is positive about new markets as well. “Sales into the US and Canada continue and Asian borders are opening for Dutch products” says Hensen. The opening up of far-away markets puts an increasing emphasis on quality and consumer-orientation. “The costs in reaching those markets are high so the products will have to comply with the highest quality demands,” Hensen said. 

Good import market such as citrus & stone fruit too

Recognised for its expertise in the stone fruit category, Wilko Fruit today supplies the large majority of supermarket chains in the Netherlands. “Our sales made big progress in 2015 and supplied 13 retailers in the country,” states Wilko v.d. Swaard, the company’s founder. He confirms the increasing consumption of stone fruit, largely due to the rising level of eating qualities in the new varieties and the larger volumes available from Spain in particular. “The Iberian peninsula provides us with 90% of our sourcing for all categories: cherries, peaches, nectarines, flat fruit and apricots”. Wilko Fruit runs its own office in Valencia for the quality checks and packaging. The Dutch specialist makes a selection of the best growers from the different provinces of Huelva, Seville, Murcia and Lerida. Citrus is the second category traded by Wilko, followed by apples, melons and grapes. The best selection is supplied under the “Gaudias” brands, which enjoys a good reputation on the market. Among its novelties and exclusives there are “Chocolate” navelinas, with a brown colour and an exquisite taste. It is packed in 6 kg boxes of 50×30cm. About 10 years ago in an orchard of navels near the WilkoFruit offices in Valencia, some completely brown fruit appeared on a branch of a navel tree. An analysis was carried out and it was decided to go ahead with a mutation. They grafted it and the result was the brown orange we have today. The “Chocolate navel” has the following characteristics: it is highly aromatic, low acidity, very sweet to eat, has a rather long shelf life and a good proportion of juice. Wilkofruit began selling this orange several years ago and has seen greater success every year. “When December comes, our clients ask us when we can send them the first ones.” Today, Wilkofruit sells this orange exclusively in Europe except in Germany, where the producer has an exclusive agreement with a major supermarket chain. „


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Holland working hard to enter new markets and boost consumption

Currently the Fresh Produce Centre is involved in more projects to open up new market possibilities: peppers for China, apples and pears for Colombia, India, Vietnam, South Africa and the USA, onions for Costa Rica and pears for Mexico

„Interview with Peter Verbaas, assistant manager of the Dutch Fresh Produce Centre:

Is the confidence of the Dutch fruit and vegetable sector improving?

From the recently published Agro Confidence Index, it is clear that the Dutch horticultural sector is regaining its confidence. This index – the result of cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Affairs, LTO Nederland (the Dutch agriculture and horticulture federation) and Wageningen University – has risen during the past half year, although not to the level of a year ago. One of the sectors that reportedly has more confidence in the current situation and the longer term is horticulture. At the Fresh Produce Centre, the organisation representing the Dutch fruit and vegetable industry, we too can point to a lot going on in our sector in the wake of the McKinsey report, which states that the sector is under pressure. Many developments are indeed taking place, and there is a lot of discussion about what is the right way forward for the industry.

What is the primary focus in the Dutch industry?

One of the areas of activity is the opening up of markets far from home. As Verbaas says: “The sector has always been looking for new markets and has been involved in projects to open up new markets”. This involves complex discussions between governments in which the Fresh Produce Centre facilitates information. These projects can take as long as seven years, as was the case with opening up the Chinese market for Dutch pears. The Russian boycott has partly been the reason that the authorities are making an extra effort in the development of new market possibilities. Projects that have resulted in opening new markets include Dutch onions to Indonesia and Panama and pears to China and Brazil.

What new market opportunities do you foresee in the near future?

Currently the Fresh Produce Centre is involved in more projects to open up new market possibilities: peppers for China, apples and pears for Colombia, India, Vietnam, South Africa and the USA, onions for Costa Rica and pears for Mexico. “Due to the extra government energy being directed towards opening new markets, the list of current projects is much longer now than it used to be in the past,” says Verbaas. For the near future, some new projects are planned with an explicit focus on tomatoes. However, despite all the effort and the obvious results – a 7.1% increase in export volume during the last three years and the opening of multiple markets for different products – Verbaas observes that current market conditions are not easy. “Harder work is needed to achieve the same results.”

How are you aiming to lift the consumption level?

The Fresh Produce Centre is active in many areas. Nutrition and health is one of them, with a clear focus on developing strategies for market expansion and increased sales. Verbaas explains: “Based on the fact that fruit and vegetable consumption in Europe has been decreasing for years and is linked to the health issues we observe in society, we want to convince consumers of the health aspects of fresh fruit and vegetables and therefore encourage more consumption.” The Fresh Produce Centre has calculated that if the inhabitants of North Western Europe were to consume the recommended 200 grams of vegetables and 2 pieces of fruit daily, then the Netherlands alone would need to produce an extra 3.4 billion kg vegetables and 2.8 billion kg of fruit with an additional commercial value of €7.2 billion. A huge market potential indeed! Verbaas remarked: “We do not focus on product-oriented strategies, but aim to lift the total consumption level.” After the summer a roadshow will start targeting the members of the Fresh Produce Centre and the trade. The goal is to provide communication tools that can be used by the individual companies. “We will start and test the concept in the Netherlands and plan to roll the campaign out to Germany and the rest of Europe. The total volume in the Netherlands is insufficient to create enough impact.”

What are your latest initiatives in food security and sustainability?

Other activities to which the Fresh Produce Centre contributes include the discussion on microbiology and sustainability. In the wake of some international food safety issues in the past, the Fresh Produce Centre signals more awareness of the potential harm to reputation that can occur with food safety emergencies, and therefore an increased focus on microbiology. “The knowledge level has increased by giant leaps. We now have a better knowledge of the risks and this knowledge is valued internationally. The information stresses that hygiene still remains the most important factor,” says Verbaas. Sustainability in all its diversity remains an important topic for the Dutch horticultural sector. Although it can be difficult to decide which measure would be the best alternative for introducing an aspect of sustainability into business operations,  Verbaas observes that this area is brimming with activity and initiatives. “Programme owners like GlobalG.A.P. are investigating the possibilities and we are stimulating companies: we have the sustainable trade programme (IDH), an initiative that started offering tools for sustainability some years ago and is still being joined by an increasing number of companies.”

This interview first appeared on page 18 of edition 139 (Sept/Oct 2015) of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read more of that issue online here:

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De Jong Packaging expands to the UK

De Jong Packaging has started selling its corrugated packaging in the UK and has big ambitions there.

De Jong Packaging has started selling its corrugated packaging in the UK and has big ambitions there.

The Dutch company already supplies corrugated board boxes and trays for fresh produce in Germany, Belgium and its home market. De Jong Packaging’s sales and marketing director Arie Barendregt says being the Netherlands’ cost leader in corrugated packaging – “and its 3rd largest corrugated board factory and the only independent one” – are just two of the strengths it now brings to the UK market.

Speaking to ED at the London Produce Show in June, Barendregt said that at any one time, De Jong Packaging has 25-35 million boxes and trays in stock and ready to ship. It produces more than 300 million corrugated board trays and boxes a year and supplies fresh produce customers 7 days a week, 365 days a year. “Two out of every three trays in use in Holland are produced by us.”

With Aldi and Lidl making strong headway in the UK market, the company has been in touch with these discounters to find out more about their needs. Barendregt said that in Holland, Aldi is already a heavy user of De Jong Packaging’s wooden-look boxes, because of their natural aspect.

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But when it comes to its fresh produce clients, the company, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, has prospered on a policy of doing business with small and medium-sized firms only. Barendregt said it’s because “the big, pan-European companies always want to be the first, so they take away my capacity, they squeeze my prices, they add to my costs, because they want all kinds of additional layers of paperwork.” He said the result is a lot of business but less flexibility and increased costs. “In the end, the customers who I really care about, the small and medium enterprises, have to pay the bill,” he said.

The policy has served the manufacturer well, allowing it to stay close to its customers and meet their needs for bespoke products, strengths it believes will also see it thrive in the UK.

De Jong Packaging has 300 employees in its factory in Holland but also has a share in two Dutch flower box wholesale companies, and three Dutch and one Belgian fresh produce tray wholesale companies. “This brings us closer to indirect customers and gives us control of these sales channels,” Barendregt said.

De Jong Packaging
London Produce Show

De Jong Packaging’s sales and marketing director Arie Barendregt .jpg

De Jong Packaging’s sales and marketing director Arie Barendreg at London Produce Show in June, 2015

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Netherlands: Sustainability and transparency are paying off

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With a 34% market share in the Netherlands today, Albert Heijn continues to improve its market position

The leading Dutch supermarket chain continues to improve its market position mainly due to an increase in the number of stores and the development of e-commerce. The market share of Albert Heijn shops in the Netherlands has risen by nearly 10% over the last 10 years from 25.3% in 2004 to 34% in 2014.

A new stage of sustainability

“To be able to market these specific ready-made salads with specific types and varieties of lettuce, long-term planning with our suppliers is even more necessary,” said Leon Mol, sourcing manager for vegetables. These suppliers are located in North-Western Europe and Southern Europe, though unexpected weather conditions in Southern Europe have made it very challenging to meet our requirements in volume and quality. Sustainability has been at a high level for a long time and has now entered a new stage of development. After mainstreaming basic requirements across the whole fruit & vegetable category, there is renewed attention for specific crops in specific regions of production. These projects can really make a difference for such an area.

Organics, ahead in transparency and traceability

“The organic sector is ahead of the conventional sector when it comes to traceability and transparency,” Mol said. The professionalisation of the organics sector is ongoing and very much needed for further growth in the organics market. Although full transparency of the supply chain is a basic requirement, more attention is still needed. “The identity of a product is more and more a part of the market proposal,” Mol said. The sales of organics represent about 3% of Albert Heijn stores’ sales and this is due to rise significantly, since the number of items has grown.


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This is a short version of an article which appeared on page 30 of edition 135 of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read it for free here.