In November 1996 – a little more than 25 years ago – I set my first steps in what became a lifelong passion: creativity in fresh produce. And what a journey it has been!
To celebrate the many blessings that the world of fresh produce has given me, I have decided to commit as much as I can to paper. My free book, ‘25 YEARS, 25 PROJECTS, 27 COLUMNS,’ will be published this month.
In 1993, at the age of 34, I relocated from the country of my birth, South Africa, to The Netherlands together with my beautiful wife and energetic one-year-old son. It was initially planned to be a sabbatical of one year, but it soon turned into a new career in one of the most dynamic and interesting industries in the world: fresh produce.
In The Netherlands, I started off as a labourer in a fruit and vegetable business. I quickly learnt the language, the culture, and the unique Dutch quirks. Once settled in, my upwards and onwards journey in fresh produce has taken me into the wonderful world of marketing, sourcing, communication, food safety, and sustainability. I traveled to 35 countries all over the world, exposing me to wonderful cultures, amazing food, and agricultural innovations of all shapes and sizes. Sustainability became a personal passion.
In 2013, I met Jim Prevor, (aka The Perishable Pundit) and Ken Whitacre. They encouraged me to try my hand at writing. Struggling to find my own style and ways of turning my chaotic thoughts into a structured storyline, Jim and Ken guided me with great empathy. Their craftsmanship at using the pen and not the sword to change the world became my guiding light.
I used my world travels to search for fresh produce experiences, turning as many as I could into readable articles for Produce Business. My first article was published on 1 November 2016, and in the subsequent six years – with the help of Jim and Ken – 26 of my articles have been published in Produce Business. This is number 27.
I covered many subjects ranging from sport (In Rugby and Business, Defeat is an Opportunity – 1 November, 2019) to the emergence in Europe of small, inner-city retailers (Does Size Really Matter? – 1 December, 2018) to sustainability (Five Step Process To Sustainability – 14 April 2021). With some of these columns, the words literally flew off the page; with others, it was a labour of love over many days.
Jim and Ken taught me never to be happy with the first attempt, but to go back and rewrite until it was perfect. From them, I learnt that writing is indeed 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. This passion they infused within me was so infectious that also my son, Milan, started writing. On 20 November 2020, his story, Marketing And Selling To Gen Z And Millennials: The Do’s And Don’ts, was published in Produce Business. Since then, he has never stopped penning his thoughts… mostly in writing lyrics for songs, but often also simply for the joy of writing and to fight the dark battle against depression, which events of the past two years have created.
For some reason, I could never see things in black and white. There always had to be a kaleidoscope of colours and dimensions, even in the most basic of jobs that I had to do. Throughout the past 25 years, I could always rely on my South African creative genius – Igor Moulder – to take my scrambled ideas and concepts and turn them into something that ticked all the boxes and resonated with the target market.
We had great fun creating vibrant fresh produce brands, such as BonCap, Sweet Africa, Freedom Fruit and many more. Our off-the-wall marketing campaign, ‘Let’s go topless,’ for crownless pineapples became a legend in its own time.
Was I always successful in my writings and creative projects? Absolutely not! I often had to try and try and try again. Whenever I failed at the first (or second) attempt, the wise words of the late Nelson Mandela spurred me on: “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
My book will be a homage to Jim and Ken for believing in me. Without them, my life would have been a lot blander and uninteresting.
I am not sure how long it will be before my pen dries up and my colours run out. But rest assured: as long as I have a story to tell, or a fresh produce brand that needs to be created, I will pick up the ball and run with it!
Nic Jooste is an independent fresh produce consultant who has done presentations at the New York Produce Show on multiple occasions. He lives in The Netherlands.