In May this year, Fabien Ruiter left for Spain. He went to go and work at the Spanish exporter, Barber Caballero, in Valencia. Fabien was born and raised in a fruit and vegetable trading family in Limburg, the Netherlands.
Many of his Dutch contacts have asked him to send some business there way. That is, however, not his priority. "We are selective. We have only one distributor per region. We also specialize in container export," says Fabien.
He admits he first had to get used to the sales side of things. "As an importer, you, after all, buy the exact sizes and class you want. As a producer, you must ensure the whole orchard's fruit gets sold."
"But we do have something to offer. We are not too big a company. We have built a name for ourselves. This is with the Pilarin brand. It was established in 2006. With this, we offer only top-quality trade. In this way, we will never disappoint a client," Fabien says.
Canada, Asia, and the Middle East
Barber Caballero focuses mainly on citrus and kaki exports. Its important markets are Canada, Asia, and the Middle East. "With citrus, we focus on Clementines. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish yourself on the market."
"With Clementines, you still really have something extra to offer. This fruit has a thin peel, nice color, and good flavor. Our clients know we are not the cheapest on the market. But, they keep returning to our brand," says the young man.
"We have noticed that the margins for Spanish citrus on the Western European keep shrinking. We have only one distributor per region. This choice was made to generate exclusivity for our clients. We are not looking for new clients."
"We want to better service our existing clients. Our focus, outside of Asia, is on selling leaf mandarins. We see this product becoming more and more popular with our Canadian clients," continues Fabien.
Good reputation on the Shanghai and Guangzhou markets
China is a major orange market for Barber Caballero. "We have grown rapidly there in recent years. This has also led to us gaining a good position with the Pilarín label in Asia," says Fabien, proudly.
"Our advantage is that we have a colleague there. He is active in the Chinese market. He checks the quality of the fruit when it arrives. He also sees how the market develops. To build something in such a market, you really have to have a presence there yourself."
"We focus our exports to China purely on Navel oranges. Egypt is our biggest competitor. They are placed better, logistically. They also have lower production costs. However, our label is getting more and more of a foothold in China."
"Trade politics influence this too. Since the trade conflict between China and the United States, less citrus is going from North America to China. On the other hand, for us, this means increased competition on the Canadian market," explains Ruiter.
The Middle East is also an important market for the company. "We have noticed an increasing demand for high-quality citrus there too," says the exporter. According to him, the competition in far-off destinations is on the rise.
"Certainly in a season like last year. At one point, orange prices were at around €5. A short term plan is, however, not good for your brand awareness."
Barber Caballero started exporting kakis six years ago. But, when the European market became saturated, the company stopped with this. Their clients, however, kept asking for kakis. They, therefore, started exporting this product again.
"Last year, the market was good for kakis. This year, they are practically being given away in Europe. We have noticed this with exports to distant destinations too. We have, however, managed to avoid this malaise on those markets somewhat," states Fabien.
With the Sanguine blood orange, this Spanish exporter has a real specialty in the winter. "The leaf Sanguinelli have a more luxurious image. Especially under our Barber and Caballero brands."
"We have built a good position in regions outside of Europe too. They are not as familiar with this citrus variety in these areas. We offer these oranges with the leaves still attached. That gives the product a luxurious appearance. In the coming season, we expect to do well with these again," says Fabien.
Sanguine blood oranges
Fabien has joined a local football club in Valencia. Scoring on the field is, however, less important for him at the moment. "It is much too busy at work. I was appointed to help our English clients. Then, you have to deal with the time differences."
"In the mornings, I am on the phone with Asia. I then talk to clients in the Middle East. Later in the afternoon, it is our Canadian clients' turn. Fortunately, I love what I do," he concludes.