In the Netherlands, Bakker AGF's Jan Bakker recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Of those seven decades, he has been trading fruit and vegetables for six. "I started peddling cauliflower at ten, and I've never stopped," Jan begins, laughing.
Jan and Rick Bakker
His father and grandfather started the company just after World War II. "They began selling new potatoes and cauliflower." Open-field vegetables are still this North Holland wholesaler's mainstay. "We used to buy everything at Veiling WFO. There used to be more than 1,000 growers in the area. Now there are about 50, so we visit them directly. We buy most of our produce locally, but it's the complete range," says Jan.
"Our strength lies in the Dutch season, which peaks between mid-March and the summer vacation. We don't import directly, but if customers want something, we'll buy it in. The greenhouse acreage in two nearby areas has expanded, so we started selling more and more tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. But we do our share of top fruit, where we're among the last auction buyers in the area."
"You mustn't put all your eggs in one basket. We, thus, try to have as broad a client base as possible. They range from market vendors to processors, wholesalers, supermarket DCs, and increasingly ethnic customers," continues Jan. For the last 25 years, the German market has also been an important target group.
"We sell plenty in the German wholesale markets and the surrounding businesses. We have an eight-vehicle fleet, so we can reach places quickly. We've, therefore, built a reputation for delivering the goods on time. The trick, of course, is to plan your routes correctly and get the trucks back full, something we manage eight or nine times out of ten."
Vegetables are currently in short supply, causing many prices to skyrocket. "The situation's a little extreme but suits us. We manage to get our trade together and are making good money. Even onions, of which we sell nice volumes every year, are outrageously expensive. I think the beauty of onions is they always sell; whether it's a freezing -20°C or a sweltering 30°C, you can always sell onions. Bell peppers are a growing product group with us too. More so than tomatoes and cucumbers, you can sell those to everyone," says Bakker.
What distinguishes him as a wholesaler? "I think those are big words. In essence, it's very simple. You try to buy goods where you see potential and then try to get a little more from those. You try to earn a living every day, preferably with something extra. Every day in the fruit and vegetable sector is different."
"Sometimes, it's like gambling. One day, trading's a bit sluggish, then you have to pull out all the stops; the next, it's better, and you must ensure you're on top of things," explains Jan. "Trading is a sport for which not everyone has the flair. It's also vital not to take things too far; you must keep good financial control."
Jan does not want to hear about quitting just yet. "That will undoubtedly happen someday, but for now, I still enjoy the business far too much. We have a great team of about 15 people, and the fourth generation has already joined the company. I want to keep enjoying that for as long as possible," he concludes.
For more information:
7 De Tocht
1611 HT, Bovenkarspel, NL
Tel: +31 (0) 228 515 739