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Primarily, Levarht wants to be director of the chain

Levarht in Aalsmeer has been importing and exporting fruit and vegetables to and from all over the world for eighty years. Nowadays the company is much more than a trader. It is moving away from this role and growing towards becoming a director in the trade. CEO Frank Pijpers and commercial manager Claas van Os speak open heartedly about their mission and ideas. "We are convinced that we can do this together with the grower and retailer."

CEO Frank Pijpers and commercial mananger Claas van Os

What does Levarht do exactly?
Frank: "Traditionally, we are known mainly as an importer of melons and export of greenhouse vegetables, but we do far more than this. Our main goal is to serve the retailer as quickly as possible. To achieve this, we collaborate closely with the source, the grower. Together with our Dutch and Belgian growers of Van Nature we market a high quality and varied assortment. We have our own production in New Zealand, Costa Rica and Mexico, among others. Why? Because what we do from Holland, we can't do all year round. And our goal is to execute the process from the grower as well as possible, and to do this all year round."

What are your main sales areas?

Claas: "As far as markets are concerned we have a good spread. Besides the domestic market, we supply Europe and various overseas markets. Whereas many Dutch companies are mainly focused on Germany, we do not do much there at all. For us, Holland, Belgium, England, Scandinavia and of course the overseas markets are our main sales areas.”

Do you consciously seek out the shade, so that you don't have to compete with colleagues?

Frank: “No, because in the end, we do business with Scandinavia and England two, and there are a lot of exporters there too. So it'd not like we're avoiding competition."
Claas: "Everyone is everywhere. But what we have been doing in recent years, is placing ourselves in the market differently. We have really started to focus on added value. I think this has contributed to our continual growth.”

The big office in Aalsmeer

In what way have you placed yourselves in the market differently?
Claas: “A number of years ago we asked ourselves who we wanted to be as a company. The main points that came forward were partnership and trust. We are a very open organisation and through this openness we link a lot of cultivation straight to specific customers or market. The growers know our customers and markets. Sometimes you need special varieties for the overseas sales markets. Because we are brave enough to be the director of the chain, we include both the grower and the final user very closely. In the market you often see a lot of holding back: cultivation and trade do not trust each other. But our way works well."

Does this mean that you have become more of a director than a trader?
Frank: “As a trader you are too dependent on what happens every day. We consciously look at what we need, where we are going to get it from and where it has to go. The retailer wants us to supply them with a fresh product and do so all year round. What products can we best do this with, what do we not have enough off, how do we fill that in? By having more awareness you can tell the retailer
the story too."

Part of the packing area

But does this mean that the company is specialised only in a certain amount of products and cannot offer the full range?
Frank: “On the contrary. On one side, we are very good at a number of core products, but besides this we are also good at working widely. In the Middle East for instance, we work with a retailer to whom we supply between eighty and one hundred different products, six days a week. Meanwhile, many people still link us to Dutch greenhouse vegetables. But we are more than our greenhouse vegetables and are setting up more and more direct importing lines. This means you have to make sure you have the right source, which are certified and understand what the market wants.

Is it correct that you mainly work with yearly programmes to keep as much calm in the chain as possible?
Claas: “We do want a streamlined process. We also want the grower to be able to make money and draw as many activities for specific customers or markets as possible."
Frank: "It's not like we're already there, but it does give us peace of mind and control within the whole chain. and of course there are always retailers who prefer weekly of seasonal programmes."

Do you say goodbye to retailers like that?
Frank: “Well, you learn from it. First of all you look to see whether you can fill in the collaboration in a different way. Of course, we continue to play into the specific needs and possibilities of our buyers. In the end it's about all three of you winning!"
Claas: "What is happening more and more, especially among retailers, is that they let you know at what level the consumer price should be. When you can make a one on one deal with the grower and the retailer for an entire season, you can take out so much messing around. By making good deals about various varieties or a certain packaging, you are shortening the chain. And this means by definition a better and fresher product. We have gained a lot of new retailers as customers. But there is also a better product."

Private label Take a Pep

What are your thoughts on private label?
Claas: "There is a trend towards private labels. We too work with a lot of private labels. For instance, beans from Kenya are processed and packaged locally under their label for certain retailers. We do the same from Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand and the Middle East. It extends your collaboration with your growers and retailers. When you have the cultivation to the point that you can supply the customers own label, you can really offer a lot of added value. It also takes a lot of costs from the chain. You can put this profit back into a better product and cultivation."
Frank: "You have to try and add as much value as you can close to the source."

But are your growers so market orientated that they want to offer their products in every packaging?
Frank: “See, we know that we are better off offering two packagings than ten. So too much fragmentation doesn't work. You also have to give it time and give the growers a lot of attention and guide them."
Claas: "This movement from retail to the source started years ago. You can argue about it all you like, but the retailer needs this. We are able to help our growers with this development. The result is that they have understanding and flexibility. But we remain rational. In the end no one wants twenty different packagings. It has to make sense.”

Are you not afraid you will become superfluous if the grower has direct contact with the buyer?
Frank: “No, because we are convinced that if we continue to offer enough added value as a director the retailer will not sit down to arrange everything with the growers themselves."
Claas: "We have committed ourselves to supplying that added value. The core that we believe it's about, is trust, partnership and knowing exactly what the customer needs. So that you can play into this from the source. As long as we keep doing what we do well and supply a good and fresh product, we are not superfluous."

Is it as easy to confront the grower with the retailer abroad as it is in Holland?
Claas: "That depends on the growers. It isn't so much linked to the country as to the specific grower's way of thinking. There are growers who are ready for it and therefore can switch more easily and there are growers who want to, but are not quite ready for it. Together we will find the middle way to make is possible. But the will is there. You can see that abroad too. We have proven that it is important to build something with both the grower and the retailer. we need to think outside of the box and outside of the distrust of each other. We all have the same goal, which is bringing a fantastic product to the market and making money.”

You have been suppliers of a number of large retailers from all over the world for years. How did you manage that?

Claas: “I think it's mainly because we are a very good director for the chain, who looks at the needs of the customers and isn't afraid to enter a partnership."
Frank: "It comes down to how you do your job. And you bet that we aren't judged any different from another supplier. But as long as we keep doing well, which means that we can offer the right products for the right price, if we continue to supply them. We realise that the demands are very high but you know what it's all about? We're dedicated."

Does the retail not just look at the price?

Claas: “I don't agree with that. Retailers want the best value for their money. But our growers also have to make money. Because we are open to including the grower in the demands from our retailers, as much as possible can be supplied directly.This way costs are taken out of the chain and you can make sure that you make the required price level and supply the freshest product according to all parties' desired price. A big advantage of this customer group is that they make a very good prediction. This is because they are very steady and choose continuity of the relationship. People can say what they want about retail, but they stick to their predictions and are 100% predictable. This means you can base your chain on this. But you have to include the grower in it. And we do."

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