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"You have to be willing to diversify in a narrowing market.”"

Netherlands: Changes in logistics

Today’s logistical sector offers a landscape full of impressive changes. Until a few years ago, large reefer ships in overseas export areas were stacked with products, after which a laborious Atlantic crossing brought them to Dutch harbours. Once they had arrived they usually ended up in long-term storage. The growing popularity of containers, as opposed to specialized reefer transport, has changed the industry dramatically.

More and more refrigerated cargo is shipped by container. In addition to this, an increasing amount of produce finds its way to other parts of the world, such as Asia and the Middle East. This means a drastic decline in volume and therefore a reduction in the long-term storage of products, a development which had a major impact on the logistics of fresh produce in the Netherlands. Importers and transport companies cannot ignore this trend. Two companies affected by it are Kloosterboer Vlissingen and Varekamp Cold Stores in Poeldijk. 

With more than 3 million cubic meters of cold storage, Kloosterboer is one of the leading logistics service providers for temperature-controlled goods in Western Europe. Jack Kloosterboer, director and owner of Kloosterboer, is well aware of the new climate. "The volumes, suffice to say, are down," he says. "The transition from conventional to containerized transport has changed a lot. People sometimes underestimate how big the change is, and the speed at which it took place. We ourselves have certainly underestimated the situation. Nowadays, large supermarket chains travel to the country of origin and reach agreements with exporters and cooperatives, so a much more selective range is coming this way."

Last year 35% of the refrigerated cargo shipped by sea came in via the traditional reefer. In 2015 this is likely to be a mere 25%. What lies at the root of this development? "Container transport is much cheaper than conventional transport," explains Jack. "In this economy, this is a decisive factor.”

Varekamp Cold Stores in Poeldijk has years of experience in fresh logistics. Director Willem Nowee recognizes the development, but continues to see the bright side. "The chain is shortened considerably, but that means you have more opportunities as a logistics service provider. I say 'opportunities', because I think you have to plan ahead. What is it they say? ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’? That’s it. But it's definitely a challenge. We always have to come up with new, additional services to differentiate ourselves and retain the customer.”

With all this going on, do transport companies that only deal in storage still have a future? Willem Nowee believes that companies reluctant to provide added value will have a difficult time. "It's a matter of market positioning. I recently met an importer who presented himself as' logistic service provider’. That, I think, is key. You have to be willing to diversify in a narrowing market.”

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