“I'm not going to lie; 2020 was a tough year for us," says Youri Aerts of Fruit At Work. "The year got off to a promising start with record sales in Q1. But then COVID-19 hit Belgium. And we lost about 60% of our client base within ten days."
Fruit At Work's core business, as its name suggests, is supplying fruit boxes to businesses. But during the pandemic, most people were working from home. Much of their sales, therefore, fell away. "It was a huge blow. We weren't delivering fruit boxes to nursing homes or hospitals, mainly just offices. And those orders weren't coming in anymore."
“Yet, we got orders we'd never have gotten otherwise," Youri adds. This virus has raised the importance of healthy eating and having a healthy lifestyle. Some companies wanted to do something for their home-working employees. They more quickly considered healthy gifts. Fruit At Work, for example, received an order from Siemens. They wanted a healthy package to be delivered to all its staff.
And Apple requested a waffle package. It had to include a recipe, ingredients, and, of course, fresh fruit. Then there was a company that organized an online wine evening for its workers. They all got a wine package with cheeseboard and grapes. Fruit At Work's fruit was sometimes only a small part of the package. But they'd assemble the entire package.
“We have an extensive (logistics) network. So, we could quickly process and deliver these packages. We had a successful first three months last year. And then had sporadic, interesting orders. Also, we used our creativity to be still able to make sales. All this ensured we could still close 2020 in the black. We also didn't have to let any of our employees go."
Besides filling these orders, Fruit At Work launched new products like the Sangriabox. "Being creative kept us from losing hope. We showed that, as a fruit supplier, we can completely unburden customers. And that we're capable of many things," says Aerts.
Fruit At Work's sangria box
Back to normal
Since mid-August, the company has, however, been hectic again. "We anticipated this. For the past fortnight, we've been actively working on ads again too. Company employees are starting to return to the office. We hope this year's last months will compensate for the rest of the year," says Youri.
"Just like the first three months of 2020 saved that year." Schools, too, are reopening. And those orders are increasing, especially from Brussels educational institutions. "We hope this will continue and that we'll soon be able to return to normal."
Fruit for the government
This year, Fruit At Work re-extended its framework contract with the Flemish government by four years. "They clearly loved the path of sustainable business. We're pleased we can, again, supply Belgian government agencies for the next four years," Youri concludes.