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Hein Deprez, Univeg, after 30 years of investing (part 2/2)

“My best period at Univeg is yet to come”

In his last interview Hein Deprez spoke about how he built the company and about the current situation of the company. In this follow-up interview Hein speaks about his vision and the future of the Univeg Group. Francis Kint, the CEO of the Univeg group supplements him regularly.

What are the main production areas for the next few years?

Hein: "Personally I am in favour of producing products in dry climates, where there is still enough water. This is where you can producer sustainable top products. Due to a dry climate you have less chance of diseases and I am a firm believer in areas like Peru. Fruit and vegetables are grown in abundance in the world's driest desert, but there are masses of water available. One of these areas is Argentina, where you can grow beautiful apples and pears in a desert climate in which there are enough cold units. Another example is Chile. Of course, we remain dependent on nature, as frost was a disaster there this year. We can do a lot with our technology, but we can't always match changes in the climate."

How important are the BRIC countries to you?
The BRIC are very clearly up and coming. India, for instance, is already the largest producer in the world of many products. These products are not all exported, but are largely destined for the domestic market. There is also massive production in Brazil, but most remains within their borders. It is often not very attractive to these countries to export."

Can you still play a role in up and coming countries?
Francis: "Certainly. We have just opened sales offices in Brazil, Asia and Dubai. We want to build up a network of contact points so that we can participate in those markets. This will mainly be guided by those who export. They have to keep it afloat. This is also our secondary strategy. We are primarily focussing on Western Europe."

What are the chances and threats on the Asian market?
Francis: "We divide Asia into three areas: China, India and South East Asia. China is, of course, an exceptionally interesting market. It isn't easy to get into it, due to a strong local market, but now we are viewing China more as a possible market in which we can sell. India also offers good opportunities. If you look at what this country imports: it equals one piece of fruit per Indian per year. If we can make it two, we will have doubled the market. They like certain products, but we can introduce them to others. With the right contacts you can lay foundations for the future. There is enough to be done. Half of the world's population lives in Asia."

Things are going to change with the availability of food. Does this give hope to the fruit and vegetable branch?
Hein: "Certainly. Fruit and vegetables are the solution to giving people food. They are the easiest way to solve the food problem. The consumer doesn't always think this straight away, because as soon as people have more money, they buy meat. Fruit and vegetables could be a solution to the food problems and scarcity in the future, I'm sure of it. We can grow large amounts on limited surfaces and it is easy to control. There is enough knowledge and innovation in our sector to realise this."

Today's reality is that turnovers are under heavy pressure...
Hein: "There are a lot of reasons for this. We have become victims of our own power and innovations. The horticulture in Holland is perhaps the victim of being so very innovative, having so much labour power and being so enterprising. The production capacity sometimes grows so fast due to technology and innovation. From 2008 to 2011 the total Dutch vegetable export increased by 19%. This is huge and the volumes continue to increase. We go through difficult periods sometimes, and companies will fall. It's painful sometimes, but it will only strengthen the sector and make it more transparent. It needs to become clearer."

What will Univeg look like in 20 years?
Hein: "Univeg is a family company, and it has been built around our family. This means me, my children and my sister, supported by 3 other families, of which 2 are South African and 1 Belgian. A family company is a long term company and we think in terms of generations. There is a second generation slowly being prepared and who are very interested. We are taking our first steps with the kids. The oldest two have graduated and the other two are still studying, the tender beginning. It's still unbelievably interesting to them. My best period at Univeg is yet to come. From 2000 to 2010 the focus at Univeg was on creating size. Over the next few years we will roll the knowledge and know how we have to proceed in other areas. We will continue to develop step by step and our focus for the near future is internal growth.”

Authors: Izak Heijboer and Gertrude Snoei

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