We received a simple document, titled Euro Fruits Impact Report 2017 that reminded us that it was the 25th anniversary of Nitin Agrawal’s founding of Euro Fruits and thus of the Indian grape export industry.
We knew instantly what had to be done and we soon were granted a great honor, as Nitin Agrawal has agreed to come to come to The Amsterdam Produce show and Conference and engage in an exclusive conversation with yours truly, to discuss the incredible story of the development of this industry from nothing to an industry that now regularly exports 187 million metric tons in a year.
Of course, we will go beyond that and try and identify lessons learned in these years that can be guiding stars for us all as we look to build our lives and our businesses in the years ahead.
To Americans Nitin is mostly unknown, yet he is the George Washington of the Indian Grape Industry and the story of his success is rich with potential for us all. This Pundit cannot remember when he was last as excited to be part of a public discussion.
We asked Samina Virani, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication ProducebusinessUK.com, to get some of the back story on Euro Fruits and Nitin Agrawal:
Euro Fruits Pvt. Ltd.
Q: As part of our preshow coverage we are highlighting exceptional leaders. For over 25 years, you have been the face of India’s grape export business; an exceptional leader who single-handedly designed an entire market value there. How did the story of Euro Fruits start for you personally? What was your passion to pursue this? It is true that you got into this by accident?
A: It was in the year 1992 when I was part of the family business. The family business was into oil and oil tankers, and that was the time I was involved in that business for a couple of years, but I always wanted to do something international. I wanted to travel overseas, do foreign business, so I started looking at studying wine and the manufacturing of sparkling wine.
In that process I went to Russia to study. We were looking for what were the best options possible for manufacturing wine and sparkling wine. I was studying this project with the intention of doing a joint venture with a Russian company, and we formed a brand called Rosinda. That project never took off. However, it just so happened that the particular project was covered by a newspaper in London.
After my study in Russia, I went to the UK looking for a partner for my wine, but it was not so easy. The day I was planning to come back to India, I visited the Indian Embassy as I had a friend there. I expressed to him my interest in searching for a partner for wine. He said “No, there is no such company I can refer you to, but there is one fax that we received from a UK importer called Mack Multiples, wherein they expressed their interest in buying grapes from India.” So, this friend of mine showed me that fax and asked me “Nitin, would you be interested in supplying grapes to this company?”
My first reaction was that it was not the kind of business I was interested in because, for me, exporting grapes from India was like packing a few cartons, putting it into an airplane and sending it. So I didn’t really find it very interesting at that time.
Nevertheless, when I came back to India and as I was collecting all my papers from my bag, I saw this fax again and just wanted to give it a shot. So without thinking much, I sent them a reply saying that I was in London, and I got this fax from them via the Indian Embassy and please let me know.
Immediately I got a response back saying that they know me and my company and that they would like to do business with me. I was a little bit surprised about how these guys knew about me. It so happened that they had spotted an article about my visit to Russia on the joint venture on manufacturing wine in India. I was not even aware that any such article had appeared. This is how we started exchanging some faxes, and then one day I got a message saying that their technical director Dr.Alan Legge would send me a list of questions and that they would like me to respond to that.
When I received this fax, there were some 16 questions asking about the variety and size of the grapes, the sugar content, the kind of pesticides used, food and safety standards etc. Frankly speaking, at this time, I had no clue about this, but we had a farm horticulturalist working for us. I showed that fax to him and he said he was in a position to make a reply to that. So, he gave me a reply to that which I sent to Mack Multiples without even understanding the contents of the thing.
Immediately, I got a response from Alan saying, “This is well done, fantastic. We are coming to India.” Now that was a real challenge for me to meet face to face. I picked up Alan, I took him to a nice restaurant close to the airport for a lovely Indian lunch, and Alan started asking me questions about grapes which I never knew how to answer because I had no answer to that. I was diverting his subject by talking about Indian food, Indian beautiful girls and everything else, but not about grapes because I knew nothing about it.
Then we went to my office and he gave me a little introduction about his company and that is the time I explained to Alan, “Look Alan, I know nothing about this company, nor the grape business, but we are serious family businessmen. We are honest, hardworking people, and we have no intention of misleading or cheating you, but we know nothing about the grape business.”
Alan said “I’m already in India so let’s go to Nasik, where the grapes are grown.” We visited some vineyards. He saw the kind of Indian vineyards on the way from Mumbai to Nasik, which was about 4 hours by road at that time. We were discussing about my family business, which is in logistics and the road transportation business.
After the visit he just went back, and for a few weeks I had no communication with him. One fine afternoon, I got a call saying “Nitin, congratulations. You have been appointed as our exclusive supplier of grapes from India.”
I was a little bit surprised and asked Alan, “What made you take this decision knowing the fact that I know nothing about this business?”
He had three points, which changed my life.
He said “Nitin, at first you almost tried to mislead us and give us a different impression, so you will always have that guilt feeling and will work with more honesty with us. Point number two: You know nothing about grapes so you will never argue with me. You will do exactly what I tell you and that is a very important point for me. The third point is that you are currently in India in the transportation and logistics business, which is extremely important for fresh produce. So it will be very helpful for me to have your expertise and your knowledge on logistics which will be helpful in making the grape business successful.”
On all this I only made one promise to Dr. Alan Legge, who is my guru, ”You have nominated me as your supplier. Be my teacher and I will be your best student in the world.”
I’m glad about what I told Alan, my guru, my teacher, my mentor. I have proved it. I have proved to be one of his very good students.
As a mark of recognition, just a few years back, we invited Alan to India to show what his student had been able to achieve in the past two decades.
This is the story of how we started this business. We learned this business. We started on a very small scale. Alan came to India, taught me A, B, C about the grape business, which we learned. We did a few containers successfully to Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer way back in 1993. After that, my wife and I went to the UK, we worked in there like packhouse workers, just to understand the fresh produce business, and that is how the Euro Fruits journey started.
Q: You established the first state-of-the-art produce packhouse in India, which in 2017 was rated as one of the best in the world by the European supermarkets, USAID and USDA officials and Indian government agencies. Can you explain a little bit about this?
A: When I went back to the UK after the first few containers were exported in 1992, we saw a state-of-the-art packhouse at Paddock Wood, and I was so impressed with it. That was the time I made a commitment to Alan that I would make a replica of that packhouse in India.
That time in India, no one knew what a grape packhouse was, but I came back with that dream, and I actually implemented the dream with a lot of issues and a lot of hurdles along my way. However, we were strong enough to face everything, and we set up a packhouse in Nasik, which went into operation February 1, 1993. Even today, it is rated as one of the best grape packhouses in India.
Q: How did your packhouse compare to others in different countries?
A: While setting up this kind of infrastructure, we also travelled to all the leading countries like Australia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Spain and Greece to see how the grape packhouses in the other parts of the world looked like. We collected a lot of ideas from them, and we wanted to create an infrastructure that is absolutely on par with the international standards.
We are very glad that today, when a lot of European supermarket clients visit our packhouse, they rate Euro Fruits packhouse as one of the best grape packhouses in the world. This really brings a smile on our faces. We really feel very happy.
We also feel that our hard work and efforts have been rewarded. We are a company that is 100% responsible for our clients. We respect every client’s views, suggestions and comments. Also, we try to implement every smallest, single suggestion from our clients to keep them happy. That's the motto of Euro Fruits.
Q: With the packhouse technology in place, were there any other advancements you implemented to raise the standard of working? For example, the standard of labor?
A: For Euro Fruits, gender equality is of utmost importance, and we have always regarded and respected our women workers in our packhouse. We are very glad to inform you that we are one of the companies in India that recognizes the great contribution from the women workers.
We pay them, we reward them substantially for the great, hard work and effort they put in and we are very proud that we are able to recognize their efforts by making them have highly advanced positions in our packhouse. We have implemented gender equality with great success in our packhouse and have set a kind of different standard in the country on this. We recognize all our women workers. We respect them a lot.
Q: Are you looking to expand to other markets?
A: I must tell you that Euro Fruits is a company built basically to serve our European supermarket clients. We are currently exporting to the UK and Europe. Included in this is Scandinavia, which is also a very important customer for us.
We currently supply to the UK, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Russia etc. We have very good relationship with all our customers. We are also growing into Eastern Europe now. So Europe continues to be our very important market.
However, in the past few years, we are also growing into other markets. For example, South East Asian countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia etc. So this is the area we see a lot of growth coming along.
Q: Do you have any visions to extend your grape variety in the future? If so, what would need to take place in the Indian legal system.
A: Currently for Euro Fruits, the biggest initiative and challenge is to look into new varieties, which is a very complicated situation in India because of the intellectual property laws. We have had several rounds of discussions with the Government of India to change the systems, and gradually I see something happening in the near future.
We are talking to a lot of nurseries and breeders around the world, and we are looking into the possibility of producing a few new varieties in India in the coming years. I repeat, it is not going to be an easy job. It is going to be very tough. However, that is where the fun is. When the going gets tough, the tough one gets going. That is where Euro Fruits is committed, and we are going to make all efforts to make this venture successful.
Q: Sounds like you are really pioneering the way in India. Are you involved with any other sustainability or CSR initiatives over there?
A: For Euro Fruits, sustainability and CSR are extremely important initiatives. We are also very active in our corporate social compliance. We fund an English primary school, which started 10 years back in India, giving free education to our farmers’ and our workers’ children.
This school – an English Medium School - was basically the first of its kind. Initially, there was a lot of resistance, and no one wanted to send their children to our school. We tried pushing them and convincing the parents and the children to come to the school for their own better future. The response was initially very poor, so what we did was to introduce a big park and garden in our school, with a lot of playing equipment like slides, see-saws, a merry-go-round etc.
This became a big attraction for the kids; it was like a big park for the nearby villages. Every evening the kids would come and play. Initially, we allowed everyone to come, but gradually we told the children that if they wanted to use the park, they must also come to the school and study. That is when a lot of kids started coming to the school.
Today, I am very proud to say that we have 250 students and they all speak fluent English. I must here say big thanks to my wife and my two lovely daughters who really supported me for this venture. Today, this school is really growing, and we feel extremely proud of the fact that we are able to spread the message of free education.
Q: Does your philanthropic arm extend in other areas as well?
A: We are also associated with a lot of hospitals and medical centers near our packhouse. We assist a lot of needy patients. To date, Euro Fruits must have helped more than 10,000 needy patients who could not financially afford to get the best medical treatment. Euro Fruits helps such needy patients who are from backward financial positions and who cannot afford to get the best medical attention. Euro Fruits is very lucky and fortunate to be able to do this and we will continue to do this. This is our commitment.
I would also like to share an emotional experience on this. About 3 years back, one of the harvesting laborers started crying profusely. I was really surprised that he was crying so much. He came to my office and started narrating the story about his one-year-old son. It was his first child and how that small baby had a hole in his heart.
Doctors had almost given up that this child cannot survive unless someone sent him to a big hospital immediately. At that time, the cost of the operation was very expensive; one that he could never afford. He had approached government officials and NGOs for financial assistance. No one gave him a single rupee for his medical treatment. That is the time I decided to come forward and help him.
I told him that he should be assured that we would take care of 100% of the expenses for his son’s operation. Three weeks later, he was operated on, and we paid for all the expenses for the operation. I’m very glad to inform you that that boy is now about 4 years old and a very healthy and strong child.
We feel so happy that this is one of the real contributions that Euro Fruits has been able to make for the society. This is a contribution beyond words. We convert it into action. It’s not that we want to get any acknowledgment or applause for this, but this is a very genuine story about how Euro Fruits really works for the betterment of the society. We are so proud that we are able to do this.
Q: What will the next 25 years look like for Euro Fruits?
A: Our only dream, desire and ambition is that every year Euro Fruits continues to do good work for our suppliers, our farmers and, of course, our customers. We want to see a smile on the entire value chain; that everyone associated with Euro Fruits feels very happy. For us, our integrity is of utmost importance. We value our reputation a lot, and we only dream and desire that Euro Fruits should be regarded as the most professional, the most honest, the most integral company in the world.
Euro Fruits cannot be compared with some of the other big producers or players in the world. We are a very small company. But in terms of our reputation and integrity our dream is that we should be regarded as the most important company in the world.
Q: Finally, you’ve also mentioned your passion for the people in the fresh produce global village. Do you have any stories or anecdotes of this?
A: My personal feeling is that this business is all about people. It’s all about connecting people. I think this is what is the passion for Nitin Agrawal. I love meeting people. I travel across the globe. I meet a lot of people. Whether we do direct business with them, or we don’t, I feel like staying connected with them anyway.
I make an effort to always stay in touch with them, either via WhatsApp or email or phone call and try to greet them. This is my biggest passion. This business is all about people. That is what drives me. I always say that the fresh produce business is like one small village in the world. It is a fresh produce village, where we all know each other.
The fresh produce business is very interesting; it is very challenging because no two seasons are alike. Every year we have a different challenge, and a different situation. The best part is to live and accept that kind of situation. The fresh produce business is very dynamic. It is never boring and that is what keeps us going. This is my biggest passion. I love my business.
Q: Is it true that everyone who works at Euro Fruits is called a Euro Star? How did this come about?
A: Yes, that’s a unique thing about Euro Fruits. There are no designations. There are no managers. There are no general managers. There are no assistant managers. We feel that all are performers. They are all my stars. That’s why about 8 years back, we changed all the designations and we called everybody only a Euro Star.
We feel Euro Fruits is a galaxy and all the employees are stars. So that is why we call everybody a Euro Star. Some are shining less; some are shining more. However, all are stars. Everybody has one title: Euro Star. I must tell you I’m the luckiest person in the world to have such a fantastic team that is dedicated, loyal, honest and hardworking. We are like one big expanded family.
I just want to tell you one last thing: Whatever accomplishments we have had, whatever we have achieved, I feel I owe the life I have lived and the very existence of Euro Fruits to Dr. Alan Legge. If it is was not for him, I would not be in this business. And if I was not in this business, tens of thousands of people who are getting their employment and bread and butter because of Euro Fruits would not have gotten this.
So Alan, I really want to once again thank you. Thanks a million times for what you did for me. We are ever grateful to you for putting your trust in us. I’m really happy that we could meet your expectations, and thank you for being so patient in teaching me everything about this business. I owe everything to you, Dr. Alan. You are great. You are my superstar.
Thank you and Have a Grape Day.
We’ve invited many of Nitin’s friends and associates to the event, including Dr. Legge, who sent this note:
Thank you very much for your interesting message, and I certainly have been aware of your broad range of activities including the valuable contributions as the Perishable Pundit for many years now. I finally retired last year after 55 years in the various parts of this incredibly fascinating and diverse industry and have been fortunate to meet so many great characters, including the cast you mention in your mail.
I would have loved to have joined you and Nitin in Amsterdam, particularly as I am very proud of the business Nitin and his Team have created and especially its ethical basis which in no small way has contributed to its success across the years.
Unfortunately, current health problems preclude my attendance, but I wish you all well, and especially the Conversation that you will have with Nitin. I could have certainly spiced up that Conversation with my clear memories of our first season of grape exports together, where we overcame every obstacle that was thrown into our path -- and there were many! Nitin might tell you about the differences between our Mark I Packhouse and the Mark II -- which we constructed in 48 very hectic hours!
Thanks again for your very kind invitation and wishing you all the best for what I am sure will be a great produce show
We all, of course, wish Alan a speedy and complete recovery and thank him for his note.
Even in his absence, though, we think his wisdom shines through even here.
What makes success? It is very tempting to think it is a mathematical formula, quality product, plus excellent service, fine logistics, etc. And, of course, all this is required. And nobody doubts the many years of hard work put in by many people. Dr. Alan Legge and Chris Mack in the early days, and Tim Reincke and Eric Bruckner at Timerfruit in the Netherlands, countless “stars” in and out of Euro Fruits.
Yet, our experience is that great success always has something more to it, some point of differentiation that allows a Walt Disney, a Henry Ford, a Steve Jobs and, yes, a Nitin Agrawal to create what had never been there before. We suppose Walt Disney would have called it pixie dust.
To us it is both intriguing, insightful and instructive that Dr. Alan Legge, while certainly mentioning the sweat and effort, identifies a different factor as the pixie dust that has made Euro Fruits and Nitin Agrawal a success. Dr. Legge writes: I am very proud of the business the Nitin and his Team have created and especially its ethical basis which in no small way has contributed to its success across the years.
How did this precisely happen? Was it the ethical basis that persuaded Europeans to support the project? Did it inspire the vendors, employees and customers to loyalty? Or did it in some unknowable way infuse the project with meaning and importance that made it succeed?
We hope you will join us in Amsterdam to celebrate with Nitin the 25th anniversary of Euro Fruits and the Indian Grape Industry, to understand its ethical basis and help us all be better and more successful as individuals, in our companies and as an industry.
Come be part of this historic moment. Come to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
You can register here.
You can request a hotel room here.
You can sponsor or exhibit by letting us know here.
Looking forward to seeing you at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
All of our events are located in iconic cities that are fonts of innovation – New York, London and Amsterdam. And we gather together the best and brightest thought- and practice-leaders from across the globe.
This is a contribution, of course, not just to the city where the event is held, but to the country and region in which the event is held. With time, we have found that these events transform the produce ecosystem of the regions. Trade members come to the show, and stay to engage with buyers and sellers in the region. It is a very different experience than meeting a customer or vendor somewhere else.
Here you don’t go to a restaurant, you go to a customer or vendor’s favorite restaurant. You meet their family. Weekends are spent at their country house, and there is a visit to their facilities. We offer some wonderful tours to help this process. And you can look here to see this year’s tours in Amsterdam.
But we thought we would start exploring the broader ecosystem surrounding The Amsterdam event. In the US, this task takes us to cities such as Philadelphia where we offer tours, and we thought we would ask Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to go to nearby Brussels and see what she could learn on the market there:
From Amsterdam Centraal Station, I jump on the fast intercity train, and in less than two hours I arrive in Brussels, filled with anticipation and knowing I had little sleep behind me.
It is pitch dark outside at 4:30 am in Brussels as I maneuver my way in unknown surroundings, yet I feel an elated familiarity beckoning my many experiences covering the Hunts Point Wholesale Market in the Bronx, New York. Here at the expansive open-air Mabru Early Morning Market of Brussels, I’m thrown into the heart of the action, dodging forklifts and breathing in the exciting, diverse profusion of fresh fruits and vegetables imported from around the world and the colorful, hustle and bustle of vendors satisfying orders for a range of restaurants and grocery stores.
Grateful for my knowledgeable Mabru guide Michel Lefever and my French interpreter Jean Wyns, I’ve swung my camera around my neck, furiously jotting down intriguing observations and broken translations amid the market flurry, as product is being loaded on trucks to distribute around Belgium, South of Holland, North of France and Luxembourg.
Daily on-the-spot cash buying and bartering still exists, explains Lefever, although less and less with the evolution to direct sales and redirection of the big chains and big volumes. Those needs are met at the neighboring wholesale market, Centre Europeen de Fruits et Legumes, which works in collaboration with Mabru, and is positioned to accommodate the “big boys”, where the client has to buy by the pallet and respect minimum quantities, he says.
Regardless, the market provides an exhibition for buyers of what’s trending and what’s new and interesting — a range of companies and a gamut of choice; one vendor is selling stores oriented to poorer immigrants, while another caters to top chefs in search of high-end specialty items…
Mabru, a non-profit organization created in 1992 to promote, develop and manage the Early Morning Market of Brussels, which is owned by the City of Brussels, quickly revived its flailing financial health with active input from the traders (which currently include 64 vendors in produce, 24 in horticulture, in addition to meat and fish), according to Lefever. He points to Mabru’s 2016 annual report, which estimates 8,000-10,000 tons of product pass through the market per week, with total sales volume of 450-500 million Euros. (The Market’s history dates back 1,000 years in different iterations, notes Lefever).
Separated by a fence, Lefever knows a short cut to the other side, where I discover the adjacent pristine indoor Centre Europeen de Fruits et Legumes, opening the doors to what becomes a jewel in the crown of my visit: an interview with the principals of Group A. De Witte, a powerhouse on the Market and beyond; the company’s market presence is palpable.
Achiel De Witte, CEO and founder, A. De Witte
I’ve learned A. De Witte is a very important company here. How fortunate and fortuitous with timing to have the opportunity to visit with Achiel De Witte, the CEO and founder, and also Stijn Vermoere, marketing manager, who happens to speak outstanding English. Stijn does the honor of translating the back-and-forth conversation, as we sit around the office table for an intimate chat, thanks to their graciousness. Today’s market action may be winding down, but the company’s multi-faceted business ventures remain in full swing.
Stijn opens the discussion:
Stijn Vermoere, Marketing Manager
A: We’re pleased to give you an image of what the whole company is doing. The name of our company is A. De Witte, named after this person sitting right here! Achiel [speaking in French] explains how he started the company in 1969 with his wife, and now 40 years later, we are with more than 650 employees and 28 companies.
We are active in imports and exports, especially in this building. We also have wholesale in every province of Belgium. We are with a wholesale market in every province to be closer to our clients. We also have two companies responsible for foodservice, going to restaurants, public institutions, and for events, like when Cirque de Solei is in town.
In addition, we have logistics and transportation possibilities, and we have refrigerated warehousing to keep goods for a certain date, and packaging facilities too.
Q: You do everything!
A; Everything in fruits and vegetables except the harvesting… Every aspect… we also have a seventh area, the fresh-cut processing.
Q: In terms of percentage of your business on the market?
A: It’s hard to tell. There’s no company like us that has every activity. Companies import and for some, it stops there.
Q: I had the chance to meet Mark Bollaerts of Bollaerts Primeurs NV, earlier in the Mabru Market.
Mark Bollaerts of Bollaerts Primeurs NV
A: Yes, he’s a wholesaler and one of our companies.
Q: How important is this market?
A: It’s rather big because our company starts with fruits and vegetables. It’s possible to have the other activities without the market, but that would be more difficult for us.
[Stijn gets a phone call. The company is in the midst of planning for a Madrid trade show, an executive has missed his plane, and everyone is brainstorming solutions… Different cultures, different companies, same issues.]
The Market is the start. Doing our own imports and exports gives us a big advantage over our rivals to do the other activities, and it gives us a little bit of flexibility.
We have certain clients that want Asian products. If we do our own imports, we’re the master of the products; we can choose which producer, the amount of goods we’re bringing in and how we do the imports. If we don’t have control over these decisions, we are really depending on other people. Like oranges… you can buy them everywhere, every market has them, but we import our own oranges, and have our own brand CIBEL for oranges and Clementines.
Only products that comply with the high-quality standards can be sold under the CIBEL brand. We work closely with carefully selected producers and inspection organizations in Spain and South Africa, and all suppliers are visited and evaluated regularly. We can do this the whole year. So we have the Spanish season, which runs from the first of October to the end of May, and then we can change to South Africa. A lot of people over here are not big enough to order oranges from overseas, so they have three or four months where they have no oranges.
Q: You need to be able to handle the quantities and you have to fill the transportation...
A: For Spain you can order one truck, like 20 pallets — maybe for every trader over here, that’s one week or two weeks of selling. But one container is one month, and for some traders over here that’s too big. We can handle it because we have four traders and four branches, so we can divide one container by four traders.
Q: That gives you a big competitive advantage. Are you unique on this market in your ability to deal in those container shipments?
A: For the overseas season, maybe three or four traders here are big enough to do it. That’s one of the reasons why the little ones are going away. In the landscape of fruits and vegetables, the little ones are being eaten up by the big fishes. And we’re one of the biggest fishes.
Q: And you deal with the big fishes?
A: This building has been built for only imported goods. So you won’t find any Belgium or even Dutch products here. The main objective was to have the big retailers here. But we see that less and less. And also, the little stores around Brussels are coming here, because the wholesale markets are buying their produce over here. If a little shop on the coast has to buy his goods at Bruges but he can also go to Brussels, if he buys in Bruges, he knows it is a day older than if he buys in Brussels. Especially the elderly generation that is more focused on quality than on price and quantity, the quality is coming to Brussels.
Q: Has this always been the case? And what would you say are the biggest changes going forward?
[Jean Wyns, my French interpreter interjects: My parents had a business in fruits and vegetables before Mabru existed… The fruits and vegetables were separated in a famous square, not far away from the Belgian stock exchange. Then everything changed. The big supermarkets came in. At the time, they didn’t exist. This was 50 years ago. My parents didn’t want us to go into the business. It was hard labor, and with the supermarkets, nothing would be the same anymore…]
A: Early on, every trader specialized, one had only Spanish products, another only Asian, and another only South American, but now if you walk through the market, everyone has every product. Now you see they buy with two or three traders. That’s the main change.
Everyone has every product now, and in the early days people specialized in product groups or in countries.
Q: Is part of the reason Centre Europeen de Fruits et Legumes is indoors related to food safety?
A: It’s important here. The things you see displayed here in the refrigerators are just a little selection of the fruits and vegetables we have, only a small part. The main refrigeration is in the warehouse building on site here. Every week we have a control action by the federal government for safety regulations and food safety, monitoring how we do our refrigeration. That’s also why we have our safety control, and we are responsible for the four different import companies.
Q: We’ve been doing our New York Produce Show for eight years now and the Hunts Point Wholesale Market is a major participant. We’ve developed warm relationships with the vendors over many years. We thought it would be wonderful to start such a tradition at the Amsterdam Produce Show with the Brussels wholesale market operations and give attention to your company since it plays such an important role. And, of course, we hope to develop long term relationship with you in the same way… The Amsterdam Produce Show focuses on leading companies and innovative players, and we’d love to have you there.
A: That sounds perfect… and the dates of the Show fit well with our calendar.
I have to be at an auction for vegetables in Mechelen in the middle of Flanders, half way between Antwerp and Brussels. It’s like a trade market for Belgian products.
Q: Yes, I’ve been to a Belgian auction, where the trading clock starts the product bidding at the highest price and it goes down from there… How necessary is the auction for your business?
A: Pretty important for the typical products, such as tomatoes, salads, asparagus, and when it’s time, Belgian endive, celeriac…
[Editor’s note: I touched base with Leen Guffens of VLAM, who kindly provided an updated report on Belgian fresh produce production. Please see the report here.
Q: What percentage of your business is Belgian product compared to what comes from other countries.
A: I guess 50 percent, but it could be 60 percent or 40 percent. It’s difficult for us to make such numbers because it passes three or four times between different companies. For example, we import bananas, sell to wholesale, sell to maybe our foodservice, or bring to the packaging company to make in different sized bags, so it’s passing our company several times.
Q: And if you’re talking about Delhaize or some of these big supermarket chains you’re supplying?
A: Delhaize does most of its Belgian products with growers or through the auction. But Delhaize is one of our big customers.
Q: When I was talking with the Michiel van Zanten about the Ahold Delhaize merger, he said that joining forces provides the ability to capitalize on the strengths of both chains and maximize business opportunities to bring consumers the best quality and value. How does the merger affect you?
A: Delhaize is one of our biggest clients, so the merger could be good or it could be bad. It is pragmatic, but if the Dutch guy in charge of fruits and vegetables has more influence, then the buying could change. At the same time, a Delhaize customer is different than an Albert Heijn customer, and the buying won’t come from just one guy.
Produce is the highest standard in Belgium. It won’t work to buy larger quantity at better prices. Food is very important in Belgium. I have a good example: If you think of Belgium, you think of French fries. Americans heard our generals speaking French, and that’s why they thought the origin of French fries came from Belgium. Every corner of our country is like a Starbucks of fries, but they have to be fresh, and you have to see them being made fresh, but in Holland, fries are baked early morning or night in an oven you can take out of a wall. There’s not one place in Belgium where you can get fries out of the wall. They are always making them fresh.
Same with fruit or vegetables…in Belgium you have to search for strawberries in a package because strawberries when harvested have to be eaten right away.
Q: In the U.S, retailers try to extend product shelf life, which can sometimes sacrifice taste…
A: What you say about prolonging the products, I think 95 percent of our customers are ordering every day. They want fresh, they don’t order one pallet every day, but 20 units, and then afterwards another 20 units.
Q: A company like Delhaize is buying every day?
A: Every day, three times a day.
Q In some of these bigger supermarkets in the U.S., they can’t do that, especially if they need to project for big promotions.
A: Delhaize does big promotions with us. Delhaize may want to push out avocados next week, a one-plus-one promotion, things like that we know. It could be they reserved 10 units a day but at noon they need 5 units extra. The system of Delhaize, in particular, is unique… There are Delhaize company stores, but also franchises stores, with people responsible for their own stores. So Delhaize has its central purchasing, but also little stores that can order immediately from us. But for central purchases of Delhaize, they order and we deliver three times a day.
Q: You really are accommodating and malleable…
A: You have three attributes that make you unique, and make you better than the other companies. One is price… really important price, because if you are too expensive, they will not buy with you. The second is quality. Delhaize is quality. There are other stores like Aldi, for example, that are satisfied with a little less quality.
Q: Would you satisfy their needs too? Do you have different tiers and levels of product?
A: Yes, different brands and different quality levels. The third attribute is service and flexibility. Retailers especially are searching for a company that is very flexible because they are not.
We have three companies here all selling citrus — oranges. Over here, they have two brands, over there, three or four brands, and Delhaize has one or two brands, then different sizes, and different packaging, layers, bulk in big bags, or little wooden boxes. We have the same product in different varieties or other products in other varieties.
Q: I must let you go to the Belgian auction now. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we say goodbye?
A: The Brussel’s government and board of directors are here in the building. They could tell you more about why they are doing this, and why the Brussel’s government is paying for this….
Q: Great idea. (Alas, with governmental bureaucracy at play, I was told I’d need to schedule a meeting several weeks in advance. An excuse to come back, I figure.) As I leave the market, now uncannily quiet, void of the early-morning commotion, I happily cross paths with Stijn, and a chance to say thank you again, but not for long. He is rushing off to the Belgian auction for more action.
Stijn Vermoere of Achiel de Witte will be part of a discussion at Amsterdam on wholesaling and terminal markets that also features luminaries such as Myra Gordon, executive director at New York’s Hunts Point Produce Market and Andreas Schindler, CEO of Don Limon and principal at Pilz Schindler, a firm on the Hamburg market.
Come and learn about the region beyond Amsterdam and the role wholesaling is playing and will play around the world.
Come to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
Request a hotel here.
And if you’re looking to squeeze in a last-minute booth or sponsorship, let us know here.
We are looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam!
Some call it luck -- though we’ve found it is almost always related to talent -- to have built a resume with a Who’s Who of top names. Jelger de Vriend has, among other places, worked at Chiquita, Ahold, Total Produce and his own consultancy.
When we first headed out to the Netherlands to start talking to people in the produce trade, Jelger’s name came up over and over. It seemed to us he was among the most well-connected people in produce. So, we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to have him present here at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
A deep background often enables one to see opportunities that others will miss, and Jelger seems to have found a unique way of helping retailers present a higher quality fresh offering. Producers and marketers, who often talk a great deal about increasing consumption, rarely do very much to enhance the consumer experience. In fact, how much does anyone – retailers, producers, industry associations, etc. -- actually know about the consumer experience of freshness at retail ? Not much, which means they can’t act to make things better.
We asked Samina Virani, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication ProduceBusinessUK.com, to get a sneak preview about what Jelger de Vriend is actually doing:
Jelger de Vriend
Heemskerk, The Netherlands
Q: How did you get into the produce business?
A: That’s a long-time story. I’m an agronomist. I studied agriculture and that landed me my first job, which was at Chiquita. I worked in the quality research group of Chiquita, in Costa Rica. They had a tropical research group focusing on improving the quality of bananas.
In total, I lived for 3 years in Costa Rica, and then I moved to Holland, where I became a sourcing manager for fruits and vegetables. I did that for about 7 years.
Ten years ago Maud Jentjens and I founded Innovative Fresh. As consumers we were often frustrated with the quality of fresh produce in supermarkets. Consumer research was not taking place and retail and the fresh produce industry was traditional and very supply driven. We started to monitor the quality of fresh produce on the retail shelf; through the eyes of the consumer.
Q: What is your main passion in this industry? You’ve been in it quite a while and now co-founded Innovative Fresh.
A: It’s a combination of fresh produce and consumers. Really improving the fresh experience for consumers in supermarkets.
Q: As a consumer myself, I’m quite interested in what fresh means, and what does “best in fresh” mean?
A: It seems that every supermarket chain has decided that the fresh category, and fresh produce is their key strategic focus. It makes a lot of sense. It’s where the supermarkets can really distinguish themselves. It is where they can offer really attractive products. A lot of attention is going into that. We experienced that as a company.
Q: When you talk about “fresh,” are there any standards or markers that you use to define that?
A: Yes, a lot of it is related to taste. Shelf-life, also, but if you really want to satisfy consumers, then it’s very much about taste. A lot of what we do as a company is focused on monitoring taste performance of fresh produce.
Q: How would you define what tastes fresh?
A: What we do is that we know what really great taste is for fresh produce. We also know the reality in the market is that it is not meeting those consumer expectations for many reasons. The main reason is that fresh produce is a complex industry with lots of different origins, different varieties, different supply chains, and intermediary players. Also, on the retail shelf, in order to do a really good job, you just have to be on top of your game.
When you are an average consumer and you go into the supermarket, there are still lots of things that can be further improved. That’s what we help retailers and suppliers with: identifying those opportunities, and giving them the insights that will help them to make those improvements.
Q: How broad is your client base now?
A: We are working with major retailers in 7 countries: Holland, Belgium, Germany, UK, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The majority of what we do is for supermarkets.
Q: Do you have an example or a case study of something you did that transformed the “best in fresh” strategy?
A: If you take for example, ready-to-eat avocados. It’s one of the most complained-about items by consumers. Quite understandably.If you buy avocados on a Friday or Saturday because you planned to make a guacamole on Saturday evening, and you are paying 3 euros for 2 ready-to-eat avocados, then, after the shops are closed, you’re in the kitchen preparing the guacamole and realize that the avocados are either over-ripe or have internal defects, then you are really very disappointed. People really go back to the local supermarket to complain about that kind of stuff; about the 3 euros they paid for the avocados, and that they were not perfect.
Most of the supermarkets I know have avocado complaints as one of their Top 10. What we do is monitor the performance and the ready-to-eat quality of the avocados. We help the retailers better understand what they can do for the consumers. As a result, there are happier consumers, more repetitive sales, which grows the avocado category.
Q: How do you monitor the performance?
A: We have two laboratories, and we analyze what the ready-to-eat quality really is: the firmness, the flavor, etc. Are there internal defects? Then we report that back. So, the retailer knows exactly that last week whether their avocados were perfect and whether they really were ready to eat. Or there were some defects, some issues, that they were not good enough, and then they will use our work to make those improvements.
Q: Let’s talk about the presentation you are doing for the Amsterdam Produce Show this week:
A: I’m going to explain that the focus right now in retail particularly seems to be fresh. All the fresh categories in general. Lots of retailers have projects going on where they are putting the focus strategically on fresh.
The beauty is that the produce industry seems to be at the center of the fresh universe. So, a lot of what happens in retail now is in the fresh produce area. That’s understandable because a lot of the dynamics around retail, for instance in restaurants, has also been in the fresh area, and there is a lot of blurring going on now between restaurants and retail.
A lot of concepts are flowing or migrating into retail that have originally been developed in the restaurant world. That makes it a really interesting time. Things like juice bars, sushi bars, pizza, together with the developments in convenience assortments. There is a lot of focus, interest and dynamics in that fresh area, particularly in fresh produce.
Having said that, it also means we have a role to play as an industry because when we look at performance of fresh produce, we still think there is a lot to be improved. One of the most interesting things where I think historically the fresh produce industry has been lacking is measuring performance. We don’t have a history of measuring the performance of fresh produce. It’s more relationship-focused and history-focused than trying to measure and monitor it.
If our clients really want to be best in fresh, and if that means the produce industry wants to have a role in that, then we have some steps to make as well.
Q: Do you see an opportunity there to transform this idea into a broader market?
Q: Do you have any expectations for the upcoming show?
A: I’m looking forward to it; that’s for sure.
Q: Is there any message you would like people to know?
A: Yes, I wanted to say that there are quite a few influences that are coming from the restaurant world. One point I will make on Thursday is that the restaurant world has been focused on attracting consumers or guests for a very long time. The Michelin Guide introduced the Michelin Stars in 1926.
Really what Michelin focused on was identifying restaurants that were worth the special journey. Those were the ones that were worth 3 stars in his method. Over time, what you’ve seen is that from a retail standpoint, we are getting very close to something similar.
I think the future of retail is going to be to deliver an exceptional fresh experience worth a special journey. That is the point I will make on Thursday. We have an opportunity both as retailers and as produce people to deliver an exceptional fresh experience for consumers. The better we are at doing that, the more successful we will be attracting those consumers into supermarkets and driving consumption sales.
Just to be complete; the 3 main points I am going to make on Thursday will be:
-Treat “Customers” as “Guests”: make quality important
-Measure quality performance! Through the Eyes of the Guest
-And remember Michel (1926): “An exceptional Fresh Experience is worth a special journey”
There is always somebody who likes to trumpet how much Coca-Cola or some other packaged food company spends on marketing and then bemoans the sorry state of the produce industry wrangling up just paltry dollars for promotion and marketing. It is all true enough, but not the whole story.
Produce is variable in a way Coca-Cola would never accept. And this impacts the effectiveness of marketing. As long as every time someone opens a can of Coke, the experience is the same.
Produce marketing can help build demand, but if the product is sometimes mealy, often not sweet, sometime not crisp, then marketing and promotion may only draw customers to trial who will then be convinced they don’t like the product or that buying it is too much of a risk.
So, we applaud Jelger for making an actual effort to make retailers aware of what they are selling. In doing this, such knowledge can begin the process of improvement – retailers looking at their own display and storage systems, turning to ripeners, repackers, producers, packers, importers, exporters and more to find better way.
Come and find out what Fresh really means and how the industry can build demand by delivering a better fresh experience.
You can register for The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference here.
We have hotel rooms available; let us know your needs here.
And sponsor or exhibit by letting us know here.
We look forward to working together to advance the industry and to #CelebratingFresh at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
When the Pundit Poppa was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we wrote a piece titled, Never Tell Me the Odds: One Man, One Disease, One Battle.
After a brave fight, he was to die, and we wrote about his passing here.
So, we are always personally engaged in the story of cancer survivors. And when they are young people, who go on to have families, we remember Dad, who underwent an experimental immunotherapy and, he told us that he knew it might not work for him, but he hoped that the therapy might develop with time and pave the way for others to live, to work, to find love, to get married, have children and grandchildren – all the things he had been fortunate enough to experience.
So, when we had the opportunity to have Maarten van der Wiejden, winner of the Gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, speak to our industry about his battle with cancer and how he lives his life today, we leapt to have him be part of our event.
We asked Samina Virani, Contributing Editor to Pundit sister publication ProduceBusinessUk.com, to find out more:
Maarten van der Weijden
Olympic Gold Medalist
Q: Olympic gold medalist, cancer survivor, a fighter and achiever… you have such a moving and inspiring story. Let’s talk first about swimming: How did you get into the water the first time and what pushed you to deep dive into professional swimming?
A: Well, my dad thought sport was a good preparation for life. When I was quite young, around 6 or 7 years old, he suggested that I take part in all different types of sports like judo, soccer, and volleyball. The strange thing was that I hated it. I can be a bit lazy as well. The only reason I enjoyed to swim was because I was a better swimmer than my sister. That’s why I started swimming. Of course, that’s not the right motivation to end up at a professional level and to win Olympic gold. I think I was swimming because people around me thought it was the best thing to do, and it was the easiest thing to do.
When I was diagnosed with leukemia at 19 years old, I started to think about my life, my childhood, about setting goals and about trying to achieve those goals. At first, I thought life shouldn’t be about trying to set goals and trying to achieve those goals because that cannot be the essence of life. So I promised myself that if I had the luck to recover, I would live every day as my last day. I did that for 3 days and then it was so boring because if you live your life every day as if it’s the last day, it’s the same. I noticed that, for me, setting goals and trying to achieve those goals is the essence of life. And since I was a good swimmer before getting cancer, I started swimming again.
Q: What were those 3 days like? What were you doing?
A: Well I wasn’t fit at all. I had just had those chemotherapy sessions. If I was able to sit for 5 minutes a day, it was quite a lot. So, I was just being lazy again, and waking up, opening the curtains and trying to see the sunrise. The first day was alright, the second day was the same as the first day, and the third day was really boring.
Q: What in general inspires you and energizes you?
A: What energizes me is thinking about what I want to achieve. Nowadays, I’m doing a lot of volunteer work. I will do a 200 km swim next year — what’s called the 11-city tour. There is a very famous speed skating event in The Netherlands, and it hasn’t been on for 20 years because of global warming, so I decided to swim it. It amounts to 200 km in 3 days, and it is to raise lots of funds for cancer research.
Q: Have you done something like that before?
A: No never. The furthest I swam was for 24 hours, covering 99 kms. So, this 200 km will more than double that. For me, what is really driving me is that I had the luck to recover from cancer. With the voluntary work I’m doing, I meet a lot of patients who tell me that they will not have the luck to recover. That really hurts me. I have had the luck to recover. It feels a little bit unfair. Why did I have the luck, and a lot of other patients do not have that luck?
For me, it’s about bad luck and good luck, so I feel so grateful. It feels very good to use that energy to swim a lot and to raise a lot of funds for cancer research.
Q: After hearing your Ted talk, the phrase that keeps resonating is “a man believes what he wants to believe.” Tell me how this came to you.
A: I questioned why people always talk about the hospital and talk about fighting and positive thinking and about what a patient should do. No one is talking about being lucky, and no one is talking about having bad luck. Everybody likes to think that we are the masters of our destiny, and, of course, we are not. Of course, it’s a nice way of man believing what he wants to believe. It’s a nicer thought to think that we are in control of our destiny and that we can achieve everything we want. However, for certain people it is not a nice thing to think, especially for those people who know they will not survive cancer. I feel their pain and often meet them, and that made me realize that I didn’t survive cancer because of my own doing. I was just lucky.
Q: Your first-hand experience makes what you are saying so powerful.
A: I really believe in that. In life, we all have goals and wishes. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we do not. Of course, we are taught that if we don’t succeed in our dreams, we look at ourselves and we ask ourselves what we did wrong. However, the reason why we didn’t exceed our dreams can be because we had bad luck. To always think about what we did wrong can cause a lot of frustration and that is not very helpful.
Q: Do you think some foods or the way we eat can evoke positive thinking?
A: Foods and the way we eat can contribute to a happier life. Of course. It can contribute to a nice lifestyle and to live the life we want. However, I have trouble with this too. It’s not fair to say that people who were diagnosed with cancer ate something wrong. There’s no blame thing in there. Of course, healthy food, lots of vegetables, fruits, and lots of variation is very important.
Q: We’d love to get some insights about how to eat well and what has worked for you: What does your daily routine look like?
A: My daily routine is that I start to eat quite a lot in the morning and then in the afternoon. In the evening, I eat less. My swimming practice is always in the morning so I need lots of energy for that. For me, it’s mainly about variation and having lots of fruits and vegetables.
Q: Are there any foods that you like or dislike?
A: No, not really. With the variation concept, there are not really things that I don’t eat. I love to eat a nice pasta with vegetables and blue cheese. Sometimes I enjoy drinking some wine. It should be about enjoyment. For me, that’s the main thing.
Q: Has the formula for you changed over the years?
A: When I won Olympic Gold in 2008, I was eating a lot because I was training for 7 hours a day. I was eating lots of bread and lots of pasta. Nowadays, I eat a lot less. But still, it’s about variation and vegetables.
Q: Yes we are definitely interested in the way that nutrition plays into performance. Would you agree or disagree that the way you eat deeply affects your performance as an athlete?
A: Of course, it does. It plays a huge role in how fit you are and what your physical capabilities are.
When I was a professional swimmer, I was not drinking alcohol nor going to McDonald’s. Nowadays, I have two daughters so there is a bit more ability for that.
Q: Are there any fruits or vegetables that you would say enhance your performance?
A: Oranges, apples, bananas. That kind of stuff.
Q: When you go to the supermarket, what does a weekly shopping basket look like for you?
A: We order online so that’s a lot easier to then have some time left for the family. However, this morning I had been swimming for two hours, so then I went to the grocery store and took some coffee and nuts, and some soft fruits and yoghurts.
Q: Do you think the supermarkets inform you enough about the fruits and vegetables that you buy? About local produce, labeling etc?
A: I’m not sure. I worked for Unilever for 5 years. I’m not sure if the informing part is the retailer’s responsibility. It’s not what they really do. It’s more the fast-moving consumer companies that try to inform. However, I think we do have some retailers that talk about bananas and potatoes coming from local farmers and they try to tell you that story a bit. In a shop, people are just in a hurry, and they just put what they need in a shopping basket and go.
For myself, the time that I do spend is more about preparing a late breakfast and enjoying that, and having some time to enjoy the day. I do not spend lots of times informing myself about food because I really believe in simply having vegetables, fruit, and a varied diet. In foods, you have lots of hypes, and I think, for me, it doesn’t work to go into those hypes too often.
Q: How did your career take you to Unilever?
A: I was working in finance. It was one of the goals I wanted to achieve because I wasn’t enjoying doing sports anymore. I had already won the Olympic Gold and I had nothing to challenge me. At Unilever, I was challenged. I was financially responsible for laundry products and dishwashing liquid. I worked for Unilever in Jakarta for half a year and it was really fun.
For me, I really like being challenged and being in the swimming pool; it’s hard for me to be challenged again. It’s easier to be challenged at a company like Unilever.
However, now I spend more time swimming again because of my challenge to do the 200 km next year.
Q: The next project in the pipeline is this big swim then. How did your charity work start in general?
A: I’ve been doing volunteer work for the Dutch Cancer Foundation since 2004, especially all swimming-related things. In 2004, I swam the Ijsselmeer, which is a 23 km lake in the middle of The Netherlands. I raised 30,000 Euros for that, and after my Olympic Gold, I did lots of swims to raise money for cancer. Recently, I’ve begun my own foundation, The Maarten van der Weijden, and my 200km swim is part of that project.
Q: Can other people get involved with that project?
A: Yes, what we are trying to achieve is that in each of the 11 cities that I swim across, we want 1000 people to join in. They can swim 500m or 2000m. That local swimming event in each city starts when I cross that city. We hope that 11,000 swimmers will join me.
Q: Finally, any favorite restaurants you recommend? What type of food do you eat when you go out?
A: We were just on the beach with the family for a couple of days and I really enjoyed eating fried fish, french fries and salad. Looking at my children enjoy that food too was nice. Well, for a few times a year, eating this food is okay. I'm not promoting my children to eat fries and fried fish, but when on the beach for a holiday, this is okay.
My favorite food is the French cuisine, but I also enjoy eating Middle-Eastern food — last week I went to an Afghan restaurant — and Asian food.
Maarten van der Wiejden’s comment about cancer and his recovery — what’s called the 11-city tour. There is a very famous speed certainly humble of him to say it. But it is not the whole truth.
True enough, there are many people who drastically overstate the impact individuals can act to, say, cure their own cancer. It is a terrible thing to do because it implies that people who fail to cure their cancer were somehow at fault.
First, the amount of misunderstanding or incorrect information out there is enormous, so some people think they are doing something smart and wind up hurting themselves. As brilliant a man as Steve Jobs, when diagnosed with an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, responded by postponing medical treatment to go on a fruitarian diet,and the delay in his treatment might well have contributed to his death.
Second, people have received serious cancer diagnosis are asked to make important decisions at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable and often not thinking straight.
Third, decisions are multi-faceted and, depending on life-stage, financial situations, etc., many people make decisions not solely to help themselves but with the thinking of the impact of their decisions on loved ones.
Still, the interaction between the human will and survival is complex:
On the prevention side, although we can no more say that you will not get cancer if you eat a healthy diet than we can say you will not get cancer if you do not smoke cigarettes, we can say that the evidence is overwhelming that certain behaviors increase or decrease the likelihood of illness.
Deciding to eat well, exercise appropriately, maintain a healthy weight, etc. — what’s called the 11-city tour. There is a very famous speed are not a matter of luck; they are conscious choices. And even when stricken by a disease like cancer, one’s personal choices can impact the likelihood of recovery.
It starts with monitoring and screening. Is a woman getting the recommended mammograms? Are people over 50 getting colonoscopies? Again, following these recommendations are choices that can result in early detection, which increases the likelihood of a cure. That is not the same as luck.
And even when being treated, there are lots of decisions people make that impact the likelihood of success. Where to go for treatment, how aggressive to act, on and on.
There also is most certainly the matter of personal will and discipline. When the Pundit Poppa was being treated for leukemia, we did a stem cell transplant with cells from his identical twin brother.
The procedure took an hour, but the recovery took a year. There were countless hours walking laps around the hospital floor, blowing in a spirometer making the ball rise. There were people who didn’t do it – and they didn’t get well.
There was also a willingness to defer gratification and follow instructions. A stem cell transplant involves first destroying the immune system, then building it back, but during that process one is very vulnerable. You have to go a year before you can have immunization, so for that year, you are like a baby without immunizations. With an impaired immune system, one is vulnerable in a way that one would not normally be.
So, patients are advised to avoid many things. No fresh fruits or vegetables, for example, because the pathogens that would give a normal person with a developed immune system a stomach ache could kill a person with such a compromised immune system.
And they should avoid public places. There was a young man who also had a stem cell transplant and, feeling healthy, though with a compromised immune system still, couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the rules. He went out clubbing, caught something and died.
So, our impact on our health and our ability to recover is most decidedly impacted by our own behaviors.
But there may well be more to it than that. We once wrote a piece about Tiger Woods and how the mind impacts performance. You can see that piece here.
And Dr. Robert Stovecik, who at the time was President of PrimusLabs, sent us a letter that referred to the fact that somehow both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Here is his letter:
I love science but sometimes those of us with a Ph.D. and/or an M.D. are just full of ourselves.
I think that Dr. Sloan would benefit from reading some of Viktor Frankl’s accounts of the will to survive in Holocaust victims.
Then again, in part we might measure the level, quality and/or attitude of caregivers toward positively disposed individuals or ones with loving attentive families.
I always thought it a bit beyond chance that Jefferson and Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Exclusively a statistical anomaly, really!
Humans are the “Ultimate Resource” in even more ways than Julian Simon intended.
Santa Maria, California
So, come to the Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference and meet one of the more inspiring people of our times, and join the discussion about what motivates performance.
You can register for the event here.
If you need a hotel room, let us know here.
And a few sponsorship and exhibit opportunities remain – so if you are interested, let us know here.
We look forward to seeing you at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
Working in the world of fresh fruits and vegetables is a blessing because it gives us all the opportunity to live on the side of the angels, working to move a product that is not merely enjoyable but genuinely beneficial for individuals and the world at large.
At our events, we always like to have athletes present, partly because the story of healthy living involves both food and fitness, partly because sport is a story of achievement – as Jim McKay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports reminded us “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” — and so inspiring for us all.
And when an individual has had some bad luck, yet has not allowed himself or herself to accept this misfortune as a justification for failing to achieve, we all get the benefit of realizing that our problems are often petty and that, we too, can rise above our difficulties and achieve the things we value in our lives.
Self-pity can be a very destructive emotion, so we found a very inspiring person to meet with attendees and sign autographs while inspiring us to be all we can be. We asked Samina Virani, contributing editor to Pundit sister publication ProduceBusinessUK.com, to help us better understand his story:
Tim De Vries
Paralympic Hand Cyclist
Q: You have won countless gold medals, are known to push all boundaries and deliver amazing performances. Please tell us a little bit about your advice, “believe in your strength and focus on your goals.”
A: In 1997 I got into an accident on the trampoline during practice. The accident was so bad that they had to amputate my left leg through the knee. Ever since then, I have had to keep believing: If you want something, you can achieve it no matter what kind of handicap you have.
Q: It’s truly inspiring and courageous. How did your passion for sport in general begin?
A: It began when I started on the trampoline. I wanted to make it to the Olympics. Then several years after I had my accident, I started hand cycling. My Olympic dream changed into a Paralympic dream.
Q: You are also a motivational speaker with a strong message, “let your physical disability not be a mental limitation.” How did you get into speaking and what do you enjoy the most about it?
A: I started speaking in 2015 when the Tour de France started in The Netherlands. I went to schools to tell children about the tour and also about Paralympic cycling. My message was that even if you have a handicap, you don’t have to quit chasing your dream.
Q: How did the children react to your advice?
A: They all reacted really surprised because of my amputated leg, but were enthusiastic. I also told these kids that they need to be aware of healthy food like vegetables and fruit.
Q: How did the messages tie in between chasing one’s dreams and being aware of healthy food? For example, do you think nutrition has a big part to play in performance as an athlete?
A: I explained that the baseline is to eat healthy food like fruit and vegetables. That’s the start. Furthermore, if you show progress, you can focus on the moments you eat the food.
Q: What do you mean by that? To focus on the moments?
A: Well basically, the rule is to eat fruit and vegetables during the day. The fruit I take in the morning, and the vegetables I take in the afternoon just to have dinner. Then on a certain point like I am now, on a high sport’s level, it’s about taking the fruits at the right moment. You have to have the right amount of carbohydrate and eat at the right moment, so that you can train.
Q: So when you are training you have specific moment for specific types of food.
A: Exactly. When I was younger, my mother gave me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Right now I’m just eating every 2 hours just to get the vitamins and to get all the things I need, and to be not as full as I would be after one big dinner. If I’m full, then I cannot train at maximum capacity. So right now, I take a little bit of vegetables, bread, meat and fruit, during the whole day.
Q: How did you come to this routine or discipline? How do you know what works for you?
A: I have a dietician. I tell her what I’m eating at each moment. She tells me to eat certain kinds of food at certain times of the day. For example, fruit and muesli are good in the morning. After the training, protein is best; no protein before the training. So that’s the kind of way my dietician directs me. Then I start trying it myself, seeing what I like and what is keeping my stomach good.
Q: We are really interested in how nutrition plays a role in performance as an athlete. What you are describing sounds like there is quite an important role in it.
A: Absolutely. Also during the workout, and during the competition, nutrition is so important. I have had some problems in the past when I didn’t have enough carbohydrates and I got hunger pains.
Q: Do you ever adapt your diet according to a specific training you are doing? For example, can you tell us about the high altitude tent you stay in while gearing up for a competition?
A: Yes I’m using a high altitude tent in my house before a world competition. It blows less oxygen in, as if I would be in the mountains. I stay in a high altitude tent because the red cells in my blood produce more in this oxygen level. In this case, it’s important to have iron. What I want to achieve is to have as much oxygen flowing into my muscles at the moment before a big race. Basically, I want to get the maximum capacity out of my muscles. Iron and green vegetables are such an important thing during this high-altitude training.
Q: This is going very deep into the performance level and the influence of nutrition in performance. What advice would you give people in general about how nutrition can help them?
A: In 2015, I was going to talk with kids in several schools in Utrecht where I live, and I was asking them what they eat. What surprised me the most, and I have children of my own, is that many children said they didn’t take breakfast. I was stunned. However, just yesterday, it was on the news that more children are actually having breakfast, so that’s a good development.
I would say don’t go out the door without breakfast, because you need the energy to walk to school or to take the bike to go to school. When you have a good breakfast, the brain starts to work too. It’s all connected.
Q: Do you have any favorite fruits and vegetables?
A: Definitely yes. Every morning I always want to have a banana, and I take three parts of fruit at least: kiwi, banana and mandarins. I also really love pears, and occasionally I take a mango. That’s mainly my breakfast just before training.
Q: Do you cook?
A: Yes. I’m a real Dutch man, so the potatoes are always in the dish. I’m a married man, and I cook for my family Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The main thing for me is beans, string beans, and the short ones you cut into little pieces. Mainly I cook potatoes, the vegetables and a little piece of meat. I don’t’ ever make lasagna. My wife does that but that’s taking a lot more time. I want to do it fast and more simple.
Q: Sounds like a very well balanced meal.
A: Yes that’s important for me and for my children too.
Q: Do you have any favorite restaurants?
A: I don’t go to restaurants often. It is because it is always a specialty restaurant, like meat, or fish, or Mexican for example. What I miss is always the vegetables. They don’t give many vegetables. That’s the reason that I don’t go out for dinner a lot. It’s not that healthy.
Q: So you are more into home cooking, which means you go to the supermarket more perhaps. When you go to the supermarket, do you feel informed about the products?
A: I don’t have to be that much informed because I have my dietician and I know what to take. However, I think a lot of people don’t know the importance of fresh vegetables. When you go into a supermarket, you see all the little cans with preserved fruits and vegetables. Those cans have no vitamins. Yet, I see a lot of people in my neighborhood thinking they are eating healthy by eating what’s in these cans.
Q: In terms of fresh vegetables, do you opt for specific types, such as local or organic?
A: No. I generally just go for what I would like to eat: beetroots, string beans, cauliflower, broccoli.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring athletes?
A: Don’t ever think you are beaten because of a handicap. It’s something you overcome. Sit like you haven’t been beaten.
You asked me about motivational speaking as well. The message that I want to give out there is that if you ever have a negative situation, there is always one spark of positivity in that negativity. The trick is to pick that positive thing out of it and keep on going with the positive. That is what my life is about. Ever since 1997 when I lost my leg, there have been a lot of nice things, but there have been a lot of sad things too. Every time, I try to pick a little bit of positivity out and keep moving on.
I have had a lot of truly inspiring moments because of losing my leg. It’s just a trick to pick that little thing of positivity. It’s not always easy to pick it out when everything can be so negative.
Q: How do you always manifest this then?
A: When I did the road race in Rio last year during the Paralympics, I was in the front. In the end, I came in 9th place because in the last 800 meters I hit a little barrier and I came to the back. I was able to race to the podium still, but I didn’t make it to win. Later someone told me I had a flat tire. I didn’t know that. The positive thing here is that I somehow had the energy to come back, even though I had a flat tire. I am disappointed but that is the little thing that made me move on.
That comes in a split second. That insight.
Q: It’s like the cloud with the silver lining.
A: That is my main message. Keep moving on.
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Saskia van den Ouden
Q: A series of medals follow your trail. How did you get into sport?
A: For 6 years, I couldn’t walk because I had a problem with my leg. In 2010, they amputated my leg, and then I wanted to get on with my life and to get on with sports, because I was sitting in a wheelchair for 6 years and I really wanted to walk again.
Q; How did you get into the triathlon series specifically? Which is your favorite part of it?
A: First I started with a wheelchair sports, but it wasn’t for me. I really wanted to get out of the wheelchair, but I didn’t have the money to pay for a prosthetic leg for running. It’s really expensive. I didn’t have that money. I tried to win it with a game on the radio in The Netherlands. They collect wishes. People can submit a really beautiful wish, and if you win, they give you the money on the radio.
Q: Which is your favorite part of the triathlon?
A: Running. I don’t really like to swim. Running is the best part.
Q: Let’s talk about food. Do you think nutrition has a role in performance as an athlete?
A: Yes, it plays a big role. It’s really important to eat well before the game.
Q: What does your daily routine look like?
A: A lot of fruits. Pasta. Cereals. Muesli with a lot of milk. Yoghurt. For lunch, I’m eating mostly bread with a lot of fresh fruit and eggs, and chicken.
Q: And for dinner?
A: I eat everything but before a game I only eat pasta and oatmeal.
Q: Does the way you eat have a direct effect with the way that you play?
A: Yes, I have a lot of energy when I eat quite healthy.
Q”: Have you had any experience when you didn’t eat so healthy and it affected the way that you performed?
A: Yes, if I ate fast food I would not have as much energy as I have when I eat my normal food.
Q: What about for people who are not athletic, for example? What would you recommend are the key factors in keeping a healthy diet?
A: I would say, don’t eat too much. Don’t overeat. Try to eat different things, so that it’s not always the same. Have variety.
Q: What about specifically fruits and vegetables? Are there any fruits that give you more energy and that you eat more often?
A: Bananas. I eat them a lot. Avocados. Broccoli.
Q: When you go to the supermarket, what is important for you when you buy fruits and vegetables? Do the supermarkets inform you about what is organic?
A: It’s important that the fruits are looking well. In the supermarkets, they don’t really tell you much information. I know the information myself though. I mainly buy produce from the supermarket. The supermarkets are great here.
Q: What about cooking? Do you like to cook?
A: Yes I love to cook. I like cooking slow foods. For example, I put beef for a couple of hours on the fire. That’s really nice with a lot of herbs in it. It’s really good. It melts apart when you eat it.
Q: Do you like to go out to restaurants?
A: No. Oftentimes, I don’t do that in the season because I have a strict schedule, and I go to bed quite early. When I go out though, I take fish meals.
Q: Are you training at the moment? What is your daily routine?
A: Yes, I’m training now. Normally I start the day by going to swim for an hour, and then I go on the bike for 2 hours. I eat in between the practices. I also take sports nutrition, which has a lot of energy in it. It complements my diet. I also eat a lot of bananas and apples.
Q: I love bananas. They also make me happy.
A: Yes it’s true. Bananas are like chocolate. They make you happy.
Q: What is your advice for aspiring athletes? What is something you can give as a message to people?
A: Never give up. For example, this year in February I had to go to the hospital again. They cut my leg higher. They removed my knee now. So I went back to the hospital for 3 weeks, and everything was very uncertain because they didn’t know exactly the diagnosis. I lost my knee now, so I had to learn everything all over again. To walk, to run, to ride on the bike.
Q: It’s only been six months and you are training again. That’s amazing. You must have so much passion for this.
A: Yes, it’s everything to me. I really love the feeling of running. It’s amazing the feeling. It’s everything for me. The feeling of my body when I run. I feel full. When I run, I feel complete again. I’m feeling free. I’m so happy when I do that. I have a prosthetic leg and then when I run, I feel normal. I’m just like you.
Q: Yes, running is such a liberating experience. What are you training for right now?
A: I’m training for the triathlon again in April 2018. I’m really starting to learn everything all over again. My training isn’t that extensive right now. I run little distances. However, it’s going quite well now.