Growth in soft fruit market and exotics central for Agro Business Club Westland

“Quarter of ready-to-eat avocados in supermarkets unripe or overripe”

The success factor behind the explosive growth of soft fruit and exotics: that was the theme of a member’s meeting of the Agro Business Club Westland on Thursday evening, 23 November. 

“For the people working with this it’s a well-known phenomenon, but for the people a bit further removed it’s a bit more unfamiliar,” said honorary chairman Ronald Grootscholten to introduce the theme. Figures have shown that the Westland, the ‘horticultural region’ of the Netherlands, plays an important part in the import of fruit. The value of the imported fruit in the Westland-Oostland region has grown from 1.9 billion euro in 2006 to nearly 4 billion euro in 2016.

Host Rob Mulder from Cool Control.

Cool Control’s premises in Maasdijk was the place to be, and Rob Mulder talked about how he ended up in transport as the son of a farmer, and how he started cooling fruit at the auction of ’s-Gravenzande in 1995. In 2017, Cool Control has three adjacent buildings with 45 dock shelters, and the company offers a total of 9,200 pallet places divided over 41 compartments that can be controlled independently of each other, with a wide range of value added logistics.

The second speaker was Jelger de Vriend, previously working for Chiquita, Ahold and Total Produce, and co-founder of Innovative Fresh. With this company, Jelger wants to make the quality of fresh produce in retail measurable. He does that by a weekly monitoring and measuring of the quality of fresh produce in retail in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Customers are mostly retailers themselves, for whom fresh produce products represent a considerable share of sales and have an above-average profit contribution.

Not customers but guests
Jelger took the Westlanders in attendance 90 years back in time to 1926, when car tyre seller Andre Michelin introduced the Michelin stars, the famous three stars meaning restaurants worth making a trip for. “We can learn much from that in the fresh produce and retail sectors. In restaurants, people have been talking about guests for 90 years. In retail, we’re still talking about customers,” the former category manager said.

Jelger de Vriend

With examples varying from Eataly, La Place, Whole Foods, Vapiano, PicaDeli and Jumbo, the supermarket expert showed that fresh is actually becoming more important. “Every supermarket wants to be the best in fresh, because that’s how you can reach consumers. You might be in a different competition field online, but shops have much potential for fresh experience, and we as the fresh produce sector are in the centre of the fresh universe. Discounters such as Aldi and its Fresh Parade and Lidl, which wants to open 350 shops in the US, are also characterising themselves with fresh. They’ve actually become service discounters,” Jelger told the listeners.

The goal of Innovative Fresh is making quality measurable.”That happens in a number of sectors, but hardly in the fresh produce sector. We often think from the product or its availability, but not from consumers, and we don’t often worry about flavour. But how would you sell something you won’t put on your own table? One in four avocados and mangoes sold as ready-to-eat is unripe or overripe according to our criteria. It’s not without reason that avocados are always in the top five of most sought after products in supermarkets. But overseas plums or Southern European kiwi fruit just don’t taste good in winter. Fortunately, we now see a focus on tomatoes, for example, shifting towards flavour more, rather than kilos per square metre, by means of variety choice.”

Host Rob Mulder didn’t take the avocado criticism lying down. “We have machines that sort the avocados for the perfect ripeness. If avocados are unripe on shop floors, that’s the local fresh produce manager’s fault, because they don’t know anything about the fruit. The avocados and mangoes leaving these premises are mouthwatering.” The visitors were given the chance to try this for themselves, as they were given one of each to take home. 

Please click here for the photo report.

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