On December 3 and 4, 2014, Frug I Com, in conjunction with GS1 in Europe, will organize the 1st EU Forum Fresh Info in Rotterdam. On December 2, a number of international pre-program meetings will also take place. This international event will be held on the cruise ship SS Rotterdam, the former flagship of the Holland America Line.

Speaker Tom Quets, Capespan
One of the speakers at the forum is Tom Quets, CIO, Capespan Global Fruit Marketing. Freshplaza talked to him, and he gave his opinion on several subjects, including what digitalization means for import. "We want to digitalize, because we want to improve the way we work. The focus has to be on creating added value and transparency, rather than the obsolete administration of procedures." Capespan is an importer of fruit from overseas. Tom indicates that importing fruit and vegetables from overseas can be rather complicated in Europe. "Especially compared to other continents. European clients have many information demands, and this is sometimes a trade barrier for potential exporters when compared to other continents. In other continents, importing goes 'smoother', which means Europe could become less attractive as an importer. That's why we have to make clever use of digitalization together, to provide an answer to this issue, to get added value from it. That way, within Europe we can stay competitive compared to the rest of the world."

Digital cooperation
He also sees opportunities for the fresh produce sector to increase efficiency by working together digitally. "But just digitalization will yield limited results. We always have to see digitalization go hand in hand with standardization. That's why it's so important that international standards are agreed upon between all stakeholders in the digital process. That means from the grower in South Africa to the retailer in Germany, including all service providers in between."

Europe, with 28 member states, has complicated rules regarding import of fresh produce. "These days, administrating this still requires paper documents and stamps, contrary to the USA, for instance. The (plans for) digitalization of these within Europe is largely in the hands of two departments within the European Commission: DG-Sanco (health and consumers) and DG-Taxud (taxation and customs union). They are working on a 'single windows' procedures to improve these procedures, but sadly that's taking a lot of time." Nevertheless, he says it remains crucial for us in the fresh produce sector to have a say in these developments. "To stay competitive with other global economies - and they're not standing still either - we ultimately have to reach faster and better, more streamlined import procedures. The stamps have to go."

There aren't just issues with digitalization in import, the digital link between trade and retail is also not always very smooth. Tom thinks the answer here is a further standardization in retail information requirements, and he gives a practical example: "Within European retail, there are requirements for more than 15 different types of pallet labels, which all tell the same story, essentially. This requires additional costs in the chain, which ultimately find their way to suppliers and growers, in turn making 'us' less competitive. These costs could be avoided by agreeing upon 1 standard. Bigger and broader involvement of retail is necessary to reach true standards."

Digitalization, not bad

He points out that at the moment, Europe isn't doing all that bad when it comes to digitalization. "Software systems have long found their way into many fresh produce companies, and those systems are continually improving. Internal business procedures have for some time been automated by ERPs and digital EDI exchange of data between external parties. This has reached a certain level of maturity, and 'newer' concepts like GDSN data pools are also receiving more and more attention within fresh produce."

Going for global standardization
When it comes to standardization, he still sees room for improvement within the international fresh produce sector. "The standard frameworks are there, and within Europe, GS1 has become the norm. This standard is not yet applied globally. So a further standardization of GS1 globally is one of the opportunities to make the international chain more efficient. We also need to limit the number of variations within the GS1 framework to one theme. GS1 is itself 'only a toolbox', and has to be cleverly integrated into the sector's needs. That's why it's important that further agreements be made between all stakeholders, to use those tools as efficiently as possible within our fresh produce sector. The 'GS1 in Europe Fruit & Vegetable Group' for instance, does a good job developing guidelines on how best to apply GS1 within fresh produce. In short: to create further efficiency within fresh produce, above all every one of us needs to continue to work on standardization, doing this in conjunction with all stakeholders within the sector. Then the interplay between digitalization and standardization will create added value for all players."

Register here to hear Tom Quets and other speakers during the EU Fresh Info: www.frugicom.nl/EUforum

Freshplaza is media partner of the event