Developments at Irish fruit giant Keelings International's Dutch branch in Ridderkerk are moving fast. Last week, the company relocated that office and struck a deal with VDH, The Freight Managers, to bundle all logistics flows. Plus, new employees took up their positions.
Business Unit Director Ed Heijnen is satisfied with all this. "In the United Kingdom, our parent organization introduced 77 new Keelings branded SKUs at retailers this month. That shows how much potential this brand has in the European market across multiple categories," he begins.
Own cultivation is an important strategic pillar for this company. Keelings, for instance, owns a farm in Costa Rica called Las Brisas. Of its 900 hectares, 200 are rainforest. Besides pineapples, Keelings also sells a wide range of overseas melons.
These are Galia, Piel de Sapo, Cantaloupe, yellow melons, and own-grown watermelons from Brazil, Costa Rica, and Honduras. "Our own cultivation and brand, loyal customers, and great colleagues allow our business to grow nicely."
Ed says the company having its own cultivation is a huge advantage. "Product availability is, by far, our biggest challenge. We're not a traditional Dutch trading company; we mostly market our own fruit, and 85-90% goes into programs. That availability sometimes comes under pressure due to, say, weather extremes."
"That, then, unfortunately, also affects the programs. For example, this year, there were weeks when our farm produced as much as 50-70% less pineapple. At such times, you're glad you still, at least, have product available, even if that production is far lower than expected," says Ed.
Last year, the company added soft fruit to its product portfolio, driven by Vincent de Smalen. "We made a good start with this, and these activities are beginning to take on serious proportions. This summer, we marketed our own-grown Irish strawberries. Those sales were, however, not constant. Product availability was under pressure in Ireland, too, which led to high local market demand. From the Netherlands, we can offer a full range of greenhouse strawberries and blackberries."
The blueberry market, too, currently faces its challenges. "Due to El Niño in Peru, production is much lower, and those shortages aren't easily solved. Argentina hasn't had the best weather either and, thus, doesn't have the volumes to compensate for the Peruvian shortfall. Still, retail sales analysis shows that sales prices per kilo in countries like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands aren't sky-high. I think a price effect at retail is unavoidable. Especially as the year's end nears and availability comes under even more pressure," Heijnen explains.
Keelings' new leased office fits nicely into the Dutch sales branch's growth strategy, of which the VDH Logistics deal is an expansion. "Keelings wants the group to increasingly work efficiently together. So, we scrutinized all supply chain flows going to the Netherlands. That led us to choose one consolidation platform - VDH. From now on, all our trade enters at Hazeldonk, and when the new building's completed, from Ridderkerk."
"I'm proud of our overall steady growth, and we're looking for talented people to continue that. I'm, therefore, pleased that Maurice Peters, who, like me, has some 30 years of experience in the business, chose to continue his career at Keelings. He has a strong customer network and will thus add value to our farms. We also see opportunities to expand our import business to include mangoes and other exotics," Ed concludes.