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Interview with Levarht's CEO Frank Pijpers and commercial manager Claas van Os

"Own cultivation and partnerships are important and will be even more so in the future."

In this second part of the interview with Levarht's CEO Frank Pijpers and commercial manager Claas van Os and their vision on the Dutch horticulture and their own company.

You have to work very efficiently. Does this mean that you cut out suppliers?
Frank: “It's all about the relationship. All partners need to be able to make their money. If you think you have to be on the front row to make money, you will lose your relations and sources. You need calm on the back row to serve the customers on the front row. Are we sharp buyers? Yes, but you have to be in our market."
Claas: "Because we already take as many activities as possible to the grower's company, like packaging, it not only creates calm in the chain, but it is also an extra source of income for the grower. And in the end the growers have to make money too."

Where is Levarht's growth?
Frank: “Everywhere really. But we have had extensive growth in Mexico in recent years. We are going to see how we can grow in width by adding products to the assortment.”

How many hectares do you have in Mexico now?
Frank: “We have 7.5 hectares of greenhouse cultivation of our own. But the fact that we are there is an advantage. We are a pioneer in this field and we are the first to put down 'full-tech' Dutch greenhouses. We also found local growers who wanted to collaborate with us very quickly and who assist in cultivation, sorting and packaging. So we have 7.5 hectares of our own cultivation with which we have an exemplary role, but we also market a far bigger area.”

What area is this?
Frank: “The 60 to 65 hectares of peppers and the hectares of tomatoes needed."
Claas: "We are really very market and customer focused. From this vision you end up pulling the cultivation towards you. Some growers may be a little reserved. But there are a lot of growers, not just in Holland, who would love to participate in this.”

Is the marketing done from Mexico too?
Frank: “No, it's done from Holland. But that doesn’t mean we're not looking at how long we can keep doing that for. Maybe we shouldn't wait until it's too late, but just do it and move to America. We try to remain open to change. It's not like everything has to be organised from Aalsmeer.”

You were one of the first in New Zealand and are in Mexico too. What do you think of China?
Frank: “It's a very big market and you can see that European retailers are locating there. But they run into two big problems there: food safety and the distribution network. We are trying to see what we could do there, but at the moment we don't have any concrete plans. We only import from there."
Claas: "It's a growing market. And it's not just China, it's South East Asia too. What I think is good about Levarht is that we are a very ambitious and opportunistic company, but do everything step by step. We really want to offer added value to the local retail. That need is there."

Is local to local a threat to Dutch cultivation?
Claas: “Yes, and what continues to surprise me is that with our fantastic product, high-tech and name, there is hardly a Dutch flag to be found in the supermarket. It's a different story abroad. Every tomato grown in Scandinavia or England means one less tomato from Holland going there. I think that the Dutch product should be promoted more. We're missing out on that pride.”

How do you view the Dutch horticulture?

Claas: “I think it's about time we started becoming more market orientated. This is where the crux is. And you can only do this if you are able to talk to the growers and the retailers but you have to be open to it. If you hold onto that, I believe that we have the best product. Here in Holland we are also very good at distributing. it is only in the area of marketing and innovation that we are too driven by supply rather than market. The fact that we don't have little Dutch flags, shows that there isn't enough pride in what we do, and that we can't create that. Compare it to the Danes. A Dane is proud to be eating their own product and will pay well for it. It is really a growing focused in the market and being brave enough to sit down and talk to each other. The fact that we already generate half of our turnover this way just shows that we are on the right track."

What is your strength?
Claas: “We stick to our year round philosophy and make sure that we keep the chain as short as possible and as smart as possible. Partnership and trust are key to this."
Frank: "We also have a strong and professional team of people, who look around themselves. We also have open communication as a company and are open to many ideas and opportunities."

What is the biggest threat to your company?
Frank: “Occurrences like the EHEC crisis. These are things that happen and then you realise that no one is prepared for it and everyone panics. And you're just standing there watching and there's nothing you can do."
Claas: "And then there's the politics. Just look at the phytosanitary limitations in a country like Russia. I think that's a big threat. The increasing local production is also a threat for various areas. But you can anticipate that, and make it a opportunity. Especially in overseas areas. I only see opportunity there.”

What will Levarht look like in twenty years? Will the company have world wide production areas and sales offices?
Frank: “Yes, besides Mexico, Costa Rica and New Zealand we will undoubtedly be active in other markets. We have been around for eighty years now and I know one thing for sure: we will be celebrating our centenary in twenty years. And we will do it by adding product and supplying all year round to attract new customers."
Claas: "Our own cultivation and partnerships are very important to us and will become even more so in the future. We want to take another step in this area. We are also still the greenhouse vegetable company to many customers, so we have a lot of work to do on this front. Because besides Dutch greenhouse vegetables we have a number of strong overseas importing lines and own production areas. Retail is also going to play an increasingly important role. But we are already working on this and that means we are headed towards a bright future. I know we are!"

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