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Martijn de Graaf on five years of Yex:

“Our mission to make exotics more popular hasn’t been achieved yet”

Last week, exotics importer Yex celebrated its fifth anniversary. We look back on the first five years with manager Martijn de Graaf, and we also look towards the future. “Our mission to make exotics more common hasn’t been achieved yet, but I’m proud of the growth we realised in the last five years. It’s important to use our senses for new ideas in our vision, but at the same time, we don’t just go with our gut feeling. When we see a trend, we first do some research, we listen to customers, and we have the exotics tested and tasted by our consumer panel.”

Boosting consumption of exotics
“I worked for Valstar Holland for 15 years, and that company also sold exotics, but in 2013 we decided to professionalise this ‘hobby’ within the Best Fresh Group. That’s why we started Yex with Edwin van Leeuwen, among other people. In the past few years we professionalised considerably, and we’ve shown a wonderfully rising line every year. We immediately started with a marketing team to market our own brand Discovered. The great thing is that we managed to boost the consumption of exotics in the Netherlands considerably despite only working with a handful of Dutch importers. Everyone has their own methods. Some will have a broad assortment, others focus on marketing. We’ve chosen to invest much in marketing, because we want to make it easier to consume exotics.”

“We have about 200 exotics in our own range, but the top 20 definitely accounts for 90 per cent of our turnover. We can still promote much in the top 20 of our products, and there are a number of exotics that aren’t eaten much by consumers yet. Sweet potatoes, pomelos, avocados, mangoes and green asparagus are our five biggest products. We really managed to build a name for ourselves with a product like sweet potatoes. But the sales of passionfruit, papayas and mangosteen is also developing very quickly for us. We also get significant demand for organic exotics, and we can respond to that quite well with our sister company BioWorld.”

Passionfruit the next kiwi fruit
During the Fruit Logistica in Berlin, Yex asked visitors which exotic would become the next kiwi fruit. This research showed that professional visitors indicated passionfruit as the next kiwi fruit. “We’re now researching how to interpret this concept with our growers, customers and consumers. To that end, we’re looking at how the kiwi fruit was introduced in the past, for example, and we’re doing market research to correctly market the product. Nearly all of our ideas start with an intern conducting a product or market analysis,” Martijn says. “There are plenty of opportunities, it’s still my dream that every European household should eat sweet potatoes every week, or that passionfruit is used as an ingredient more often. There’s still much to be gained in that respect.”

In recent years, Yex invested in their own ripening team and ripening chambers to also offer mangoes and avocados as ready-to-eat. “That demand increases every week. With our ready-to-eat avocados and mangoes, we can really be of added value in combined action with our suppliers and buyers. For now, we’re only ripening avocados and mangoes, although there are definitely opportunities for more exotics, but all in due time. After all, the art is doing things well,” Martijn says. He doesn’t expect a surplus on the avocado market in coming years. “Globally, many avocado trees are being planted, but it takes several years before they start producing their first fruit. We mostly get our avocados from Peru, Chile and South Africa, but countries such as Colombia are on the rise. For now, demand is increasing more considerably than production, so I therefore don’t think it’ll be a problem to get the best price from the market for our suppliers in coming years.”

According to Martijn, availability of certain products is definitely a challenge. “Particularly for high-quality products grown sustainably in a food safe manner. In that respect, you’re not just competing on the customer side of things, you’re also competing on the supply side of things, with your fellow importers.” He’s facing the coming years with confidence. “Yex’s strength is in its team. We’re enthusiastic and driven about our products, and we’ll continue to be so. In coming years, we’ll market more beautiful products with the right marketing support, and we set the bar high. In the past five years, that has resulted in growth. I don’t see why that would stop now!”

For more information:
Martijn de Graaf
ABC Westland 120
2685 DB Poeldijk, NL
Tel: +31 (0)174 214 550

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