“Availability of overseas fruit in Europe is really at risk”
The storage and transfer of fruit hasn’t been the core business of LBP Rotterdam for years now. “Packing, repacking, ripening, handling air and seaborne cargo, Customs formalities. We do everything to de-burden global suppliers,” Anton Filippo says. In this interview, he talks about the threat of lower volumes for the European market, the rise of new production countries and sales markets, and the importance of personal contact. “We continue to travel the world. I’m convinced part of our success is thanks to that.”
“A few years ago, we purchased a citrus line for our packing activities. Our South African suppliers sent us the citrus for their European customers in bulk, and we took care of weighing, cleaning and packing for retail. The market soon asked if we could also start doing this for other products. This is ideal for overseas producers, because they can ship much more fruit. But the advantage of flexibility is priceless, and they can change their orders up to the last moment. Besides, sorting here also results in better quality,” Anton says.
Reason enough for LBP to scale up the machine park considerably in recent years. Mid-December, a multifunctional packing line will be installed, which will start by packing grapes in punnets. The line consists of 24 packing tables with scales. The new top-seal machine adjacent to the line means the punnets can also be sealed by means of film. “In the UK, top-seal is a hot trend, and that trend now also becoming more popular here. We see opportunities for this for emerging products such as blueberries, among other products,” Anton says. The blueberries have become one of the top five products of LBP. “Nine years ago we started with them on a small scale. Nowadays, we receive 35 containers per week during the season, and before and after the season we receive about 40 pallets per day via air freight. Three years ago, we invested in a berry line, and after one year, we completely adapted the line, and it’s now operational to full satisfaction.”
The product top five is complemented with mangoes, grapes, limes and avocados at the logistics service provider. “Exotics are one of our spearheads. You shouldn’t come to us for bulk. We focus on fruit that requires and deserves a bit more attention. We naturally try to automatise where possible, but manual research will always continue to be an important part of our jobs,” Anton says. Besides, LBP has also made documentation for clearing through Customs and taking care of export documents its speciality. The ripening chambers of LBP are now entering their third year of use. “For this, we hired two ripening experts with external knowledge, because ripening is a science. Results are excellent, although we still have some capacity left. Besides mangoes and avocados, we’ve recently also used the ripening chambers to ripen stone fruit and citrus, and we’ve also ripened kiwi fruit and baby bananas.”
However, the manager of LBP is also worried, about product availability in particular. “Fruit volumes from overseas for the European market are really at risk. This is a consequence of the way in which fruit is traded in Europe. The importers here want to trade fruit, but they assume overseas producers send all their trade on commission, and they then start looking where they can gain a profit. But suppliers in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Peru now have an outlet on a number of other markets, including China, which might demand the best quality, but they’re also willing to pay good prices for it. In my opinion, the European trade mentality has to change, and people should be considering the grower more.”
When asked if a branch in China wouldn’t be a goldmine, Anton answers: “I definitely think the Chinese market has enormous potential, especially considering the growth of the market, but also because exporters prefer an inspection of the fruit upon arrival. There is potentially a lot of work to be done in a good Chinese port. Whenever I’m in a country such as Chile, I’m asked about that a few times. I tend to be reserved at first, because I’m worried that if they learn this for themselves, they’ll start doing it themselves in a few years in China. However, a good partnership is a possible option, although I don’t know if I can get people to agree to this internally.”
Besides, there are other countries that have plenty of opportunities. “For example, the UK has no companies that do what we do, the whole range of clearing and so on. They have that for air cargo, but not for seaborne cargo. If Brexit actually happens, this would result in such a mountain of paperwork, it would become a great challenge for us.” The office started in Peru, LBP Peru, didn’t quite get of the ground earlier but the company does have an employee in cooperation with Holland House in Bogota, Colombia, promoting the company’s services in the country. “In countries like that you need someone who speaks the language and understands the culture.”
“I’m convinced Colombia will be the new Chile in ten to fifteen years. Infrastructure is currently still a problem, they have a shortage of packing stations. Besides, many growers haven’t been GlobalGAP certified yet, but the country is on the rise. The local government now has to understand how much potential the fruit sector has. Avocados are on the rise, but Colombian passionfruit is also very popular. Our embassy is very active there. We now just have to hope local government starts to understand how important fruit export could be for the country, because investments are still necessary,” Anton says.
“The weather extremes are also threatening our trade. Looking at the consequences of flooding in Piura, Peru, as much as 60 to 70 percent of the grape production can be written off. The drought in countries such as South Africa will also have it effects in coming time,” Anton expects. Additionally, competition of logistics service providers is increasing in the Netherlands. “There are more providers, but I think there’s plenty of work for them. I think it’s worse that some providers distinguish themselves purely on price. That ruins the market unnecessarily, because there’s plenty of work for everyone, so long as we continue to act normally. Fortunately, we have many loyal customers, but there’s more movement than in the past. We’re not the cheapest on the market, but we want to be the best. We continually have to make sure we’re better each day, that we continue to do the things we do well, and to always add value for our customers.”
For more information:
L.B.P. Rotterdam BV
2676 LS Maasdijk, NL
Tel: +31 (0)174 530 545
Photos: Maaike Petri
Publication date: 11/28/2017