Marcel van der Pluijm started exporting to North America with his own company Feeling Fresh on October 1st, 2019. The PMA and Fruit Logistica soon followed, but then the global pandemic hit and Marcel could not visit his US clients - until last week. "For two years, I've not been able to travel. It was fantastic to speak to my customers face-to-face again," says the Dutch exporter.
It was not only traveling, but exports too, that lagged to the United States last year. "Take bell peppers; I've been active in this export business for 28 years, and from all those years, 2021 was the worst ever, volume-wise. We hardly moved any bell peppers. Air freight prices are sky-high: it costs $8 to $10 more to export a box of peppers than before the pandemic. That's an extra €2 to €2.50 per kilo. We simply can't compete with Mexican and Canadian production."
"Now, Dutch bell peppers are a drop in the total North American market bucket of 12 to 25 million kg yearly volume, pre-Covid-19. However, at certain times of the year, those overseas exports were very welcome in the Netherlands, and American customers usually love having Dutch and Spanish bell peppers. We have a good name in the United States and people are willing to pay a premium price, but now, costs were simply getting too high. There were still some small shipments going out, but there were far fewer orders than usual," Marcel explains.
"Bell pepper orders declined the most. Fortunately, we export the whole package: from bell peppers and eggplants to chicory and cucumber, and luckily, that continued somewhat. I hope that, if passenger flights come back on the summer schedule, trade will come alive a little more. Hopefully, we'll start to see some different prices as well."
Marcel certainly does not regret starting his company. "I'm as proud as a peacock of what my fantastic team and I have built up in recent years. If we survive this, we'll only come out stronger and more creative. Trading with North America is my baby, and I don't want to give that up. I do see my specialism not only as a strength, but when export opportunities decrease as they have done lately, it's a weakness, too - although, let's be honest, nobody could've foreseen this. Right now, I'm having exploratory talks to expand my sales markets because of that," Marcel concludes.