As SFI Rotterdam Celebrates Its 40th Year, Owners Dirk And Jan Marc Schulz Talk Frankly About Changes In The Industry, Some Better Than Others
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 7, 2017
As the global produce trade pivots its attention to the Dutch industry and The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, the world looks at the products, the infrastructure and, of course, the people who buy and sell vast quantities of fruit and vegetables.
SFI Rotterdam, owned by the Schulz family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a celebration at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. The Pundit remembers, as a teenager, going into the Hunts Point office with the Pundit Poppa and offering — via Telex! — Florida grapefruit each week to importers all over Europe. Among the firms on that list was SFI Rotterdam. They even occasionally bought a load.
The industry has changed, and whoever has survived those changes must have a story to tell and lessons worth learning. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see what 40 years of business could teach the broader produce industry:
As SFI Rotterdam, an independent family-owned business, celebrates its 40th anniversary, what lessons could be drawn that would be of interest to our broader industry readership and the notably astute senior level Amsterdam Produce Show attendees? Dirk Schulz, company founder, who handed the reigns over to his son, Jan Marc, about six ago, still comes into the office periodically, so I was honored to have the chance to visit with them together to find out.
On this brisk October afternoon, fluctuating intermittingly between sun and rain, I was sure to first capture a family photo outside at the Rotterdam port area before we settled in for our interview.
The endearing, respectful interaction between father and son was evident from the start, but it was also clear this was not going to be a public-relations fluff piece. Dirk Schulz, distinguished company founder, was tenderly nostalgic, but also pulled no punches in assessing changes in the industry.
“I’m not afraid at all,” he says of me writing his occasionally biting industry pronouncements, intertwined with playful banter. But also with the caveat that his comments might sometimes be misinterpreted due to the language barrier (English not being his first language, and alas, English being my only language). And the fact our readership and attendance at the Amsterdam Produce Show is global and multilingual.
Illuminating answers unfolded in a warm, informal back-and-forth discussion with father and son, each elaborating on the other’s thoughts, side by side.
Jan Marc Schultz, Logistics / Dirk Schulz, Founder
SFI Rotterdam BV, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Q: As you celebrate this momentous time at your company, could you walk us through your history, and how you’ve evolved. How have the dynamics of the industry changed and how are you accommodating to that change?
Jan Marc: Well the history you can do, you’re the founder.
Dirk: I started the company 14 November 1977; that was SFI’s foundation date. I had worked for a Swedish grower group, which I purchased in a management buyout in 1982. This is what I looked like back then… [Editor’s note, Dirk shows me a copy of an old article announcing the buyout news, with his photo].
Q: That’s a nice photo. You look similar today; not much has changed in that regard. [The article reported:
“Dirk Schulz has bought the shares of SFI Rotterdam from SABA Continent in a transaction effected on 1st January. SFI has been operating as a transit company with Rotterdam as a base. It has also been involved in the import of citrus and exotics mainly from the USA and South America.
In recent years, however, it has on occasions been difficult to coordinate these activities with the group’s other import programme, and the board of directors of Saba Continent decided that in order not to restrict a natural development of SFI Rotterdam, it would sell its shares.
Dirk Schulz started the company on behalf of J.S. SABA AB Sweden in November 1977, and has built up a good organization with a substantial turnover and produced good financial results over the years. The company will continue to be known as SFI Rotterdam, but this abbreviation will now stand for Schulz Fruit Import.”]
Dirk: I was in Holland and worked for a German company, and then I separated and the Swedes asked me to build up their company, so that’s the history. From then on, this company has always operated under the slogan: independent and reliable.
As of first of January 2011, I handed the company over to the next generation. And now Jan Marc has been running the company quite successfully.
Q: What are the key changes that have occurred in the industry since you’ve started?
Dirk: The disappearance of reefer vessels to containers.
Q: What is the significance of that? How has that affected your business?
Dirk: With the traditional reefer ships, you could be a big importer, and there was less competition on one ship. The container allows every wholesaler to do his own imports, so I hate them.
Jan Marc: In addition, the cargo is not as well transported in the containers as it used to be on the reefer ships. It’s a different type of ventilation, and more than once you get containers where the reefer unit has failed, or you’ve had a bad setting so the food comes in adverse conditions. In a reefer vessel, there were all these backup systems.
Dirk: Looking back, we have been quite an important importer. [Editor’s note: Dirk reminisces, pulling out some timeworn pictures of reefer vessels filled with his fruit]. Here you see only pears, just ours, 200,000 cartons, and here you can have a few ships only for us with grapefruit. I only show you to make the point — that was a time when I was an importer of fruit and it was all us.
Now the ships are gone; nobody builds them, because a reefer ship costs three times as much as a container ship, and the container lines are dictators and monopolists. You have no service; they control the terms.
Q: What you describe sounds dire for you…What is the solution?
Dirk: The time will come when Brussels looks into those situations. The solution is free competition. The problem now is that the container ships don’t give you the possibility of any special deals.
Jan Marc: It’s a known fact there have been so-called conferences amongst the big shipper lines, and they agree on the freight rates for reefer. During the crisis, containers were suffering because of low freight rates; that is true for dry-box containers, but they were recollecting all those losses with the reefer. We are dealing with perishables, and they need to be transported.
Dirk: I explain my frustration, and you ask what the changes are in the last years. Of course, in the produce business, there are always changes, as to production areas, new varieties, etc.…
Jan Marc: But the containerization of cargo also has effects for locations. Right here in Rotterdam, you had a huge company Seabrex Rotterdam B.V., which used to be able to discharge up to five reefer vessels at the same time with the shore-based cranes and warehouses right behind it. It went broke.
Dirk: The conflict is there. There’s nothing left.
Jan Marc: And the container lines, since those vessels are bigger, they have to discharge on the outskirts of Rotterdam, and from there you have to truck them container for container from ports of discharge to the warehouses, causing congestion on the highways and separation of availability of the cargo. In the old days, there was a reefer ship, and all customers knew it was to be loaded right here. Now the customers have to call maybe five different warehouses in order to collect their goods.
Q: So you’re managing all this. That sounds complicated.
Jan Marc: We needed an extra employee in logistics only for this change.
Q: Does it affect the cold chain?
Jan Marc: Of course, we are maintaining the technology of the cold chain as well as we can, but the technology of the reefer vessels was by far better, stronger and more reliable than what these small units on the container can provide. We’re definitely facing more challenges with fruit that has been carried to high temperature.
Dirk: In a few words, we have been a major oversees importer, and the biggest change we had to live with was the disappearance of the reefer ships to containerization, which allowed every wholesaler to make their own imports. So, competition is stronger.
Q: Do you find retail consolidation impacting your business?
Dirk: As for retailers, there are only a few left and they dictate the terms, for certifications and so on.
Q: Are you dealing with these retailers directly?
Jan Marc: We have supermarkets and other retailers we supply directly, but we also supply to wholesale markets, and have specialized in serving these businesses.
Q: What would you say differentiates you from other companies?
Jan Marc: Independent is an important word. We’re a family-owned business with no shareholders only interested in their stocks. We run this business in a traditional way. It gives us flexibility, and we don’t have to call for a board meeting before we can make a change.
Q: Could you give examples of where this independence and flexibility has benefited you? Is it because you can come in with a new product quickly, for instance?
Jan Marc: New products definitely. Every year there are new products presented to us. But then it depends on whether a customer is asking for it. Say there is a volume retailer interested in a new type of berry. You have to decide fast and move fast to provide it in the timeframe they need. And there we have the connections with growers oversees, so we know where to source it.
Dirk: There are so many demands from supermarkets… all suppliers have to be certified; then you have to send them all the paperwork and the numbers. I’ve always been a big importer from overseas, and during the conversion into the container shipments, the business has to be structured in a different way.
Jan Marc. It helps that we import more direct from grower/packer/exporters. We don’t do imports through agents. All of our contacts are personal.
Q: So you’ve developed long-term relationships with growers.
Jan Marc: Absolutely,
Dirk: Once a year, we visit all our growers.
Q: With sustainability ever-present in the produce industry, are you working with your suppliers on that front?
Jan Marc: That is something in the hands of our suppliers. We encourage them to be involved with social projects, for instance, to provide better circumstances for their labor force. We as an organization don’t have a huge labor force. We’ve always kept our operation very lean and we rely on our suppliers doing the utmost for sustainability, and they are.
I visited a field irrigating without pipes using gravity, as reservoirs are placed higher than the fields. In India, we work with a packer that has built a school room next to the pack house so workers can leave their children there during the day and get a good education.
Dirk: We just sponsored a kindergarten. We do these things, but we are not giants.
Q: You’re being humble and understating your contributions, and not doing marketing campaigns to promote your good deeds.
Jan Marc: That is typical greenwashing of some other companies we don’t want to take part in.
Dirk: We do it low key.
Q: For people reading this story, what do you think is at the heart of your company’s success? And is that what will take you to the next milestone?
Jan Marc: We are definitely maintaining the traditions of a family-owned business, standing for long-term personal relationships.
Dirk: We say we are independent and reliable, which means, if we say yes, it’s yes, if we say no, it’s no, and there’s no maybe. We’re lifting these traditions towards the future. The young team we have is used to the modern equipment we have. We have to get used to the modern certificates and all the paper work that comes with that, but still maintaining the reliability of tradition.
My accountant has said that since the foundation of the company, I always adjusted well to new situations, which was a big compliment in my eyes.
Jan Marc: My father could make adjustments more easily by not having to deal with a big bureaucracy. We still do it. We add new products, which we can supply year-round, not dependent on just peak season. As for customers, we are very flexible. We supply supermarkets, or service companies that supply supermarkets, and wholesalers, you name it, from north to south.
Q: How is the competitive retail landscape in your markets affecting your business?
Jan Marc: One has to be quick and adapt to it, of course. We’ve been supplying both discounters and full assortment supermarkets directly, and the moment you see market share going to one or another, you have to play along.
In terms of the U.S. or the UK, only recently the discounters have taken away a lot of market share. In their markets, part of the coziness has disappeared. For example, there were category managers who knew for the next five years they were the only suppliers for Tesco for a certain variety. They could just do the logistics and everything was settled by Tesco.
Now they have to get up and work. We have been supplying these discounters in Germany, where the (phenomenon) originated with Aldi being one of the first ones in the 60’s. So, we were used to meeting the demands and supplying them. It was not something new. But even then, there are always changes requiring you to adapt.
Dirk: What is changing from supermarkets… they want to appear like they are the importer. They ask for their own private label. We have had three brands pre-picked with our own label but that is no longer wanted. It’s a pity for us. Our customers, whether supermarkets or the service company, want pre-picked without a label, and they put their own on themselves, so the supermarket appears to be the importer. Private label is one of the biggest changes in the past few years.
Q: These retailers are trying to differentiate themselves through their own branding. In the U.S., at least, supplier branding is gaining new life…
Jan Marc: It depends on the market and how you are able to approach it. In the U.S., the Halos brand is an enormous success. It appeals to children, and they can take Halos for a snack to school. In Europe, 70 to 80 percent of produce is provided to consumers by the big retailers, so if they dictate they want their store name on it, the whole branding from the producer-packer side disappears. The kid says your mother is buying at Aldi’s; my mother is buying at Tesco, for example.
Q: This is where your ability to be flexible serves you well…
Jan Marc: One of our own strengths is the broad spectrum of our clients, being retailers on one side but also packing stations and wholesale markets on the other side. It allows us to be able to sell almost any category of fruit and finding the best possible market for each, for the different specifications they might have.
If the customer base would only consist of retailers, the world’s food waste would be somewhere around 50 percent, I would imagine. We’re trying to do our part to reduce that.
Dirk: The consumer knows an apple is an apple. She doesn’t know if it’s already been six months in the storage. She buys by the eye.
Jan Marc: One of the big challenges for the future is consumer education, and maybe one should say consumer re-education. The generation of our grandparents knew how to make use of 100 percent of what they were provided with, whether this was produce or meat. My grandmother would make a nice stew out of chicken leftovers. These days what people throw away is just a disgrace. Why peel an apple if can wash it and eat the skin with it?
We have to re-educate consumers to go for taste and quality rather than cosmetics. Retailers over the past decades have spoiled consumers with stronger and stronger requirements only focusing on cosmetics. which have eradicated a lot of tasty fruits from the shelves.
Grapefruit is a good example. In the U.S., you’ve had a better position because of the local crop. But if you look at markets here, in the supermarkets you’ll find Turkish grapefruits, which taste terrible or Spanish ones which are only sour, but you will hardly find any Florida grapefruits anymore because they’ve gotten very expensive on one side, but also the skin was not as perfect as from the Mediterranean fruits, so the supermarkets wouldn’t take them anymore.
Q: But isn’t that short-sighted? If the consumers don’t like the taste, they won’t buy it again.
Jan Marc: Exactly, which has diminished the consumption of grapefruits dramatically, and it won’t come back anymore. Today’s generation associates grapefruit with sour, so they’d rather go for oranges.
Q: Lifestyle changes and eating habits with Millennials have probably impacted that shift as well…
Dirk: Also, having a great product is not enough. What’s not on the shelf consumers won’t know. And the consumer has no power. The only power a consumer has is not to buy.
Q: In the U.S., many years ago, the focus on cosmetics hit extremes, where an apple could be beautiful, big and shiny but taste like cardboard. There’s been a major trend away from that to drive taste/flavor profiles and promote other characteristics such as local and sustainable.
Jan Marc: Consciousness has come from a certain focus from media on wasted fruit. I hope through this strong media attention, consumers would rather buy what is tasteful and not look at size or deformations the fruit might have. Even though it looks not perfect, it still has the perfect nutritional values.
Q: In the U.S., at least, the local phenomenon is in full swing.
Dirk: In Germany, you’ll see a reference, in region.
Jan Marc: There must be better consumer awareness that the local apple in July is still harvested in September the year before, whereas the not-local apple from overseas was harvested in March, so even though it has done a voyage overseas, it’s still a fresh apple.
But then you get these NGO’s talking about food miles and speaking against this, not considering all the Co2 required to store those local apples for an extended amount of time.
Q: There are fascinating studies assessing the lifecycle costs of products. In certain cases, it is more environmentally friendly and socially responsible bringing in products overseas versus the local alternatives…
Jan Marc: There are two studies I know of. In the one that looked at New Zealand onions versus UK onions, New Zealand won it with by far a smaller carbon footprint despite the distance. The other study for the flower industry showed roses air-flown in from Kenya more environmentally friendly than the ones produced in the glasshouses in the Netherlands.
Q: And in that study, I recall there was also the social aspect, helping impoverished farmers and their families in developing countries.
Jan Marc: Yes. In bringing in products from overseas, we’re helping those economies to prosper. Given the fact that overseas fruit is better than some NGO’s try to claim, we, via Rotterdam, consider ourselves one of the links enabling smaller economies of the second and third world to build up their branches of agriculture providing jobs and income.
Q: As you’re celebrating your 40th anniversary, what things bring you the most pride?
Dirk: I get tears in my eyes reminiscing: 100,000 boxes all mine that I shipped. That was my time, today’s not my time. I look back. All this was for Aldi, 143,000 boxes of pears… 200,000 cartons of Florida grapefruit on the biggest reefer ship in the world. It could have loaded 600,000 cartons.
I got it cheap because it needed to return. All my big competitors at that time are all gone. The companies don’t exist or have been sold, but I’m still here.
Q: You seem melancholy when you’ve achieved so much, and also positioned your company to withstand and take on the new challenges and continue to thrive…
Dirk: We have always adjusted to the needs of the market. And even the new generation is doing it. Your word was your word. Today, you make an invoice to have it in writing, and two months later they deduct money. What do you do, call your lawyer? We have these disputes.
Q: What kinds of disputes. Is it a quality issue?
Dirk: No, that would be manageable. They send product back to the supplier because they require zero spoilage. A produce company comes with 4 percent spoilage, but today it must be zero.
Q: You also need to determine where the spoilage occurred.
Jan Marc: That’s another thing. We’re asked to maintain a cold chain, but that stops the minute it is delivered to the warehouse center. But we’re still responsible for any spoilage in the shops. There’s an imbalance there.
Q: In some ways, it’s ironic. You would think with the more advanced technology, you’d have less spoilage and fewer issues.
Jan Marc: But technology requires large investments…
Dirk: For me, it’s not fun any longer. If you ask others in produce, they will tell you the same. It’s just business; you have to sell and obey and suffer.
Q: OK, that’s not going to be an inspiring headline! Those edicts you describe don’t jive with the philosophy of your company as an independent.
Jan Marc: That’s the way the supermarkets want it.
Q: I interview supermarket chain executives and I don’t get that negative perspective.
Jan Marc: Because they’re in charge.
Q: Produce as an industry is such a low margin business, there’s not a lot of leeway for error.
Dirk: Profit margin is tiny. If you have two or three severe claims or you lose an account or two, you can become bankrupt.
Q: That is why the produce business demands well-honed expertise and resourcefulness…
Dirk: It’s a living product, it’s interesting. You have to be fast and feel the market. All these things you don’t have in other professions. You have to make decisions right away. If you go into the produce business for making money, that’s another question. You have to have passion to be in this business.
Q: I’ve been at our company, Phoenix Media Network, for 18 years, so I have a ways to go before I celebrate my 40th anniversary! But I’ve written for other industries, and there’s something unique and special about the produce industry because of its perishable nature.
Interrelationships between the companies become necessary to survive and prosper. Often you have to partner up with people and work together, even though you may be competing at times. We’ve talked about your strong relationships with your growers, but what about with your rivals?
Jan Marc: There is a lot of competition and competitors but amongst them you get to know their personalities, and with the right ones you are also able to cooperate. We’re all aware given this is a living product, both the supplier and market need to have the fruit moving on. It would be a mistake to say I’m not going help my competitor who at the moment has the right sale, and to think that his customer would directly come to me.
Q: It’s a small world in this business too. Well, in your case you’re truly a family. But a lot of people move around. You might be competing with someone in one instance but then at another time you’re on the same team.
Dirk: We believe in that larger family philosophy at SFI. I hope I don’t come across as too critical.
Q: You just speak your mind. It’s refreshing, and I’m sure our readers will appreciate it. I think it’s also part of the Dutch culture — directness and getting right to the point… One of our goals is to share your insights to help others.
A mantra at our company is to do things to improve the industry (Initiating Industry Improvement). It might be necessary to tell an unpleasant reality that might be hampering the industry from hitting new plateaus.
Dirk: The container situation sits really deep in my soul. You know we have a global drug problem. The container enables people to smuggle drugs. The authorities say this container needs to be scanned. So, we get it three days later and have to pay the cost.
It is not my responsibility that the industry uses equipment that invites fraud. I spent more than 30,000 Euros against the container lines, but I could never win a legal fight to get that money back. I could tell you so many stories...
Q: It seems like you’ve done well to work around these problems, despite the challenges.
Jan Marc: Our new slogan is: We’re ready for the next decade.
Q: Amsterdam Produce Show attendees will be gathering from around the world. What are the commonalities in strategizing for the next decade? Does a U.S. produce executive see the world much differently from a Netherland’s produce executive? For instance, how are shifting global dynamics shaking up import/export tactics?
Dirk: The influence from the U.S. is not that big any more. We have stopped importing from the U.S. entirely, except for a few grapefruits because most commodities don’t meet the residue level requirements, so we can’t import. It’s difficult to meet the European requirements.
The U.S. market for us is lost. A lot of things are changing thanks to the climate. A country really coming up strongly is Peru. You will be surprised what they do in the next five years.
The supply chain is changing entirely in the world. This makes the produce industry so interesting, not only new varieties but growing conditions. The other important thing is the exchange rate. It influences the entire world’s supply-demand dynamic and where product gets shipped.
Q: And because you’re independent and flexible, you can capitalize on these fluctuations...
Jan Marc: I just came back from Peru. For fresh produce, the fair was small but definitely a good meeting place. I took advantage of seeing some new production areas.
Dirk: Then there are new markets in Asia, such as cherries. The Chileans started producing cherries seven or eight years ago in big volumes. Then they came to Europe and prices weren’t nice. Then Hong Kong was there, and all of a sudden, no cherries for Christmas, with all the cherries going to Asia.
The produce business is permanently in a change, and you have to adapt. And that makes it interesting and keeps you very, very busy because you have to stay with the new developments.
Q: We look forward to following you into the next decade.
Jan Marc: What’s nice to see with many of our suppliers and also with some of our customers, generations of my father have worked together, and now it continues with the sons.
Q: At the same time, you noted there are less and less family businesses.
Jan Marc: Unfortunately, as companies grow, people tend to sell out, take a few shares, and you don’t have continuation of family member being at the helm.
Q: It takes a lot of dedication to be in the produce industry.
Dirk: The handicap of the produce business is you do 100 percent or you don’t do at all. Over 40 years, we have a good reputation; we’ve always fulfilled our promises. We don’t have friends, we have respect. And my personal enemies are all dead!
Q: I can’t imagine you had enemies…
Dirk: When I started as a German in Holland in 1977, I had enemies because I did things against the produce rules. Everyone who imported was obliged to give the fruit to the auction; that was the rule in the Netherlands. And I broke that. I went direct. In two or three years, they couldn’t hold the system.
Q: You bucked the system and had good instincts. That sounds like part of your personality…
Dirk: My personality is I’ve been married 49 years, and I have two children, a son and a daughter.
Q: So you have one daughter, as well, but she’s not involved with the company.
Dirk: That’s right. And one wife!
Q: And your one son will surely carry on your legacy at SFI, with many more milestones… You express a touching sentiment; that as generations of your father have worked together, now it continues with the sons… Looking to the future, Jan Marc, do you have children and do you anticipate they will follow in your footsteps as you have done with your father?
Jan Marc: My two sons are too young to think that far ahead. They are five and eight, still at the consumption stage!
Q: I appreciate your insights as well as your wit and candor…
Dirk: You can be aggressive with my comments, and I’m not afraid at all, as long as people keep in mind any language barriers.
Q: Jan Marc, what are some of your memories growing up in the produce industry. Did you always have interest in your father’s business? Did you start working at SFI at an early age? Could you share a few of your experiences…
Jan Marc: Growing up in a family business in overseas imports meant that at a very early age, I learned about different countries of origin and species or varieties of fruits that my classmates had never heard about nor seen or tasted. I learned my first words of English prior to school to be able to kindly welcome visitors to our house, some of which are on my own annual visit list up to today.
Carrying crates of fruit from my father’s car into the house was always exciting, as to see what he brought home this time. And it is quite sentimental to see my sons cheering on the samples that I bring home today. For their young age, however, it is still too early to predict if one of them would enter the business later, but on the other side, I am still having contact with a lot of sons in business of my father’s business relatives.
Q: Have you had any mentors along the way? Could you revisit a touching moment or funny story that celebrates these generational ties?
Jan Marc: Whilst a silver dollar coin that was given to me by one of the late seniors of Pandol Brothers is still amongst my childhood treasures, I have hilarious memories of a 1997 road trip to Mexico with John Pandol, son of Matt senior, and we are still in friendly contact today, 20 years later.
In fact, my start into representing SFI was with Pandol Brothers in fall 1997 to witness harvest, packaging and cooling techniques, and that took me to an almost full year in South America directly afterwards to again witness harvests, but also to build up new relations and strengthen existing ones.
Many of these new friends are still suppliers of SFI today, which is what I specifically like about our business. It is the human touch, the personal relations, the history one builds up together. And all of this around a beautiful line of products that are all born out of nature. It is what makes our daily efforts well worthwhile.
Q: Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories. I’m genuinely touched. Your stories add further perspective to the reasons behind SFI’s success as you celebrate your 40th anniversary and journey into the next decade.
Dirk Schulz identifies ten large industry changes during his four decades of engagement:
1) The switch from break bulk reefer vessels to containers.
2) The rise of shipping conferences that allow shipping lines to set fixed prices.
3) The rise of discounters at retail.
4) Growth in private label.
5) Decline in consumer knowledge about produce, cooking skills, etc., and a lack of consumer understanding on contemporary issues, such as food miles and carbon footprints.
6) Decline in business standards — from your word is your bond to powerful buyers who feel free to clip bills.
7) Unreasonable standards resulting in spoilage, shrink, etc.
8) A lack of fun – too much “sell, obey and suffer.”
9 Decline of the U.S. as a supply source/Rise of Peru as a supply source.
10) Rise of Asian markets as competitors for produce
There is no question that Dirk is correct, and we have often discussed these issues. At the inaugural Global Trade Symposium, held in conjunction with The New York Produce Show and Conference, we highlighted a presentation focused on some of these very same issues:
Richard Bright, Editor of Reefer Trends, To Speak Out At The Global Trade Symposium: Confluence Of Containerization, Direct Buying And Private Label Will Change The International Produce Trade
The Pundit’s family used to have an operation in Puerto Rico, and for many years it imported produce onto the island on the old break-bulk ships of the Grace Line. It was in many ways a great business. We would issue pick-up tickets to all of our customers, they would come to the pier and collect the fruit we had sold them, and if something was short, the shipping line was responsible.
When the move was made to containers, we had to build our own warehouse; in effect we had to become wholesalers in addition to importers. And, of course, all substantial wholesalers quickly became importers themselves.
To us, of course, it was a loss. Now we had to operate a very complex business, and we were responsible for any shorts.
But, to others, they could cut out the importer and import themselves. And although it is, of course, true that the cold stores of the reefer ships were stronger and more secure than those of a single container, it is also true that damage can be done in transferring produce onto trucks. Today a container often can be loaded at the production point, travel across the world and then be delivered into a retail or wholesale cold store without the cold chain being disrupted for a minute.
Some things you don’t know where blame actually lies. Yes, retailers have moved to private label, but doesn’t this also imply that branded offers weren’t delivering the kind of value that would make consumers switch stores to get the brand they want?
Sustainability is such a big component at retail today, yet one wonders if in the sustainability metrics there is a place to record the agita that comes from a work environment that feels oppressive, where people lack autonomy and have to “sell, obey and suffer.” That is quite an indictment of present trading relations and probably not the kind of environment that is, in fact, sustainable.
Please join us on the floor of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference and raise a glass to 40 years of achievement. Come and shake hands with Dirk and Jan Marc, reminisce about the past… and with all of us at the show, help build the future.
Many thanks to Dirk and Jan Marc for sharing the fruits of their experience.
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