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Belgium: History of Special FruitFrançois Meas began working in 1975 in the convenience store of his parents. By 2012 he and his brother Patrick owned an import company with a large and special assortment of vegetables and fruit, named Special Fruit.
In the late 70s François began his search for fruit abroad. "In Holland many products were not available year round. It all began with the strawberries in California. The next year I found them in Florida. Every day I imported about 2,500 kilos from Florida. After I was done in the US I went to other continents like Australia and New Zealand. Red berries, strawberries and raspberries came from these two countries." the businessman said that blueberries were not yet in the picture at this time. "This happened in 1982, after a phase of introduction, marketing and visiting supermarkets, the demand grew."
By 1983 François owned a commercial building in Loenhout, Antwerp of 500 m2. He acted under the name MAGO bvba and combined the sales with import. In the wholesale market François saw the demand for soft fruit in Europe increase. "In Antwerp, I introduced many new things such as fresh herbs and sapphire."
In the years 1984 and 1985 François imported the first kiwi fruit and vegetables from Italy, and got to work with the new products. "I've did a lot of work for it and therefore it went well. A scholarship meant that Special Fruit became known and accepted in the industry as an importer of specialties and off season import."
In 1989 his brother Patrick Maes joined the business. "Together we founded Trading Special Fruit and we moved to Meer. We expanded from 300m2 to 2000m2."
In 1990 the brothers decided to shorten the company name. "It became Special Fruit. "This year we began to seriously export within Europe. We were the only Belgians who exported strawberries to British supermarkets. Apart from soft fruits there were also more exotics like mangoes and avocados in the range.
Late in the 90's the company also imported from Spain. "Spain played an increasing role in our range of soft fruits. From that point we were really specialists in berries."
Through intense collaboration with Berry Brothers, the red berries are available year round. Due to the production in the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile it has become a popular product!
In that period Ben Maes joined the company. "Ben put the focus on Spain. He invested in contact with suppliers and in 2000 established a branch in Spain.
From 2003 Special Fruit became interested in the special Pom Wonderful pomegranate. "In a short time we have put this beautiful product on the map and there is a lot of demand for these fresh pomegranates. In the future we may also provide the pomegranate arils."
"Around 2005, we became even more even intensely involved in the import of Peruvian asparagus, at that moment it was also time for a expansion and therefore we rented an additional warehouse of 5,000m2."
In 2010 Special Fruit expanded even further. They moved to Europastraat and then had an area of 13,500 m2 available. On 10th October 2010 they celebrated their 20 year anniversary. Special Fruit's range contains 80% fruit, the rest being vegetables. The strawberry still remains, through all these years, one of the main products. Within the vegetables asparagus, green beans and snow peas are strongly represented. They are, together with the exotics marketed under the Best Choice trade mark.
Together with Cesar Castrat a Peruvian establishment was founded and specialized in a comprehensive range of products from Peru.
Special Fruit today has, at peak moments more than 100 employees. It employs 10 family members in the company. "For the next few years we want to complete the chain between production and sales by getting more grip on the production and to continue to excel in the field of service, flexibility and all year round supply."
The brand BerryFresh is used for soft fruit. BerryFresh products are available year round. The company intensively works for the renewal of varieties and flavours. The BestChoice brand guarantees quality, maturity and homogeneity for exotic products such as mangoes where customers perhaps lack the specialised knowledge of these products.
Special Fruit has for years had a comprehensive range of Fairtrade products within its Best Choice line of exotics and vegetables. Neither consumers nor businesses like unripe fruit. Therefore, the ready to eat guarantee is so important. Special Fruit has advanced rooms with specific technologies, where they can best control the ripening process. The result is ready to eat.
Publication date: 3/28/2012
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