Ben van der Bom and Bart Peek, founders, owners and sole employees of BB Fruit, prefer spending their time in cooling cells. Not because they find the temperature pleasant, but because they feel that it is where salesmen belong: among the products. “You need to smell, feel and taste products before selling them,” Peek sums up the company’s philosophy. The two old-school traders apply themselves to the import of Spanish products.
“Spain is the main country of origin for us. In the summer we do stone fruit, but now we are primarily focused on citrus. In a little while we will also have some Moroccan citrus,” Van der Bom continues. The supply of oranges and tangerines started in October this year, and the season will last until May.
The two importers have positive expectations for the season. They indicate the tangerine season as the reason. “We had more problems last year, there were too many large sizes. This year’s harvest is larger than 2015’s. The trees are producing more kilograms, but in smaller sizes,” says Van der Bom. “The weather has not been extreme, causing the tangerines to remain small. We will have smaller sizes until Christmas, but that does not mean sizes will stay small until the end of March,” Peek adds.
Although the drought in Spain probably contributes to the smaller sizes, Peek nuances this. “It is not just the drought, it is also the amount of space on the branches. In Spain, experts know the ideal weather circumstances for each period.” Peek thinks this kind of nuancing is important. Last year, it hailed in October, practically halting supply of Marisol tangerines for BB Fruit. “We had no fruit because of that, but other regions were unaffected. It all depends on where you get your fruit.”
Knowledge is important
Peek and Van der Bom focus on passion for the trade and love for the product. They do not just care about the strains used most often, they also have room for sub-varieties. “Traditionally, every tangerine was a clementine, but by now, we have multiple sub-varieties.”
“In citrus cultivation, the origin of the product is also important. The best Clemennules are from the Nules region, but this strain is also cultivated about 300 kilometres further south. Only few people pay attention to this.” Other regions have different types of citrus that grows best in those regions. Lemons, for example, grow much better in Murcia than in Valencia, according to Van der Bom.
Something for me?
Out of passion for the trade and because they wanted more time to really work with the products, Van der Bom and Peek decided to start their own company together. “It is more of a hobby for us. We do not focus on large volumes, we do not have the space for that,” Peek says. Van der Bom adds: “We want to be good to our customers and suppliers. That is why we are always looking for quality. That means we cannot process 30 lorries per week.” The customers consist of wholesalers who no longer have enough capacity to import their own citrus. Additionally, there is an ambulatory trade which knows how to find the citrus men at wholesaler’s market Spaanse Polder.
It is not surprising that the conversation moves itself to the cooling cell. This is where Peek and Van der Bom love being. The office is just for administration purposes. Between the tangerine-filled pallets, all under the Nimbus brand, Peek explains why it is important to understand the products as salesmen. “We are the eyes and ears of our customers. Customers do not just ring us to ask if we have tangerines already, but they also ask us if those tangerines would be good for them. That is how close our contact with our customers is.”
That means the occasional negative buying advice. “It might not be commercial, but we are not afraid to do it. We know our customers’ demands and desires, and we know that something that might work for John, will not necessarily also work for Jane.” The cold store, which can be found in the building of Ben van der Waal Zuidvruchten, is not yet bursting with fruit when we visit in the first week of November. Between the black labels and the traditional red nets covering the tangerine crates, the bright green crates with the first oranges stand out. The colour is not traditional, and although the green does not accentuate the orange of the fruit, it does make the product memorable. “Customers do not just ask if we have Oriental, but they also ask if we still have the oranges in the green crates,” Peek continues.
Volumes start increasing later in the season, and the complete capacity will be utilised. There is a reason for that as well. The first navel oranges, which have just arrived, are not yet optimal in flavour. Every week, flavour and sugar content increase. Peek explains that they consciously import small volumes, so that buyers can purchase better navel oranges every week. “If we push all of the first navel oranges on the market, our customers would still be buying those even if better quality is already available,” Peek says.
Late import pushes aside early Spanish
A trend that has been visible in the citrus sector for some years already, is the effort of seasonal extension in all countries. “A few years ago, they started with Nadorcott in South Africa, Argentina and Peru. This is a good tangerine that can be supplied until October.” The overlap with the start of the Spanish season means demand for the first Spanish tangerines has been under pressure in recent years. “Okitsus, Satsumas and Iawasakis are in trouble,” says Van der Bom. “The need for those tangerines is decreasing on the Dutch market.”
On the other hand, the Spanish cultivators are also making an effort for seasonal extension. Thanks to Nadorcott and other sub-varieties, tangerines are now available until the end of March. “Because of that, the need for early overseas import tangerines is also decreasing again. In the end, all that matters is quality, and customers choose the best tangerines available at that moment,” Bart concludes.