One of the Netherlands’ oldest independent fruit and vegetable exporters Jan Oskam is diversifying its business into the import trade, alongside building three multi-million euro packhouses to strengthen its Dutch topfruit supply for the retail market. PBUK speaks with Kees Oskam, son of company founder Jan Oskam, about the changes that are designed to stand the firm in good stead for the future.
In business for over 65 years, Jan Oskam specialises in supplying traditional varieties of Dutch apples and pears to markets around the globe, covering all of Europe, eastern Europe, Russia, central Asia, north and west Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
Annually, the firm handles between 50,000 tonnes and 70,000 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables, of which Dutch apples and pears account for 80-85 per cent.
To complement its long-standing export business, from next month (November) Jan Oskam will begin importing oranges, vegetables and possibly apples. The imported produce will be distributed within the Netherlands, as well as re-exported elsewhere, and the new venture will make full use of the company’s expanding coldstores and logistics facilities.
“We recently appointed a manager called Elvira Schipper to implement our new importing activities,” explains Kees Oskam, who took over from his late father in 1994.
“Elvira is an experienced manager, who used to work at a fruit and vegetable wholesale company that imports and trades in the Netherlands.”
Jan Oskam has ventured into the import business previously, but personnel changes at the company temporarily closed the door on further progress. Meeting Schipper at the right time, however, has opened up a new opportunity.
“Next month we plan to start importing oranges from Spain, Egypt and Morocco in line with the beginning of the citrus season,” reveals Oskam. “We also plan to import vegetables, like tomatoes, from Morocco. And we will probably source apples from South America and South Africa.”
Since the early 1980s Jan Oskam has operated across two sites in the Netherlands; from a head office near Utrecht and a branch office 40km away near Geldermalsen in the centre of the country.
To strengthen this infrastructure, three new packhouses totalling 3,700m2 are being built at the branch site. The facilities will be used to automatically sort and pack mainly apples and pears.
“We’re investing €3.2m (£2.9m) in these packhouses to improve our service offer, and better position the company towards the retail market for the future,” Oskam explains.
“Our company is focused on delivering pre-packed apples and pears to the big retail chains and these new warehouses will allow us to be very flexible in terms of the scope of what we can offer; whether that’s a bag of small-sized, pre-packed pears or a carton with one layer of apples.
“Sometimes when you pre-pack for a client you receive other demands, and our policy is to be responsive. That’s important because there are many suppliers [for retailers] and everyone would like to be the preferred supplier.”
Oskam says the new packhouses will also accommodate the need for greater capacity, while the sophisticated automated packing lines will help the business to reduce expenditure at a time when labour costs are rising.
“The warehouses will increase our capacity by between 30% and 40% so we can sell more volume,” he explains. “At the same time, the modern technology and automated lines operated by robots will allow us to cut out some manual labour.
“We have ordered new sorting lines with a water filling system, which means the fruit will also be sized and packed without anyone touching the product, and that is key for food safety.
“Above all, automation will allow us to reduce costs, which is very important. Salaries are rising, even for foreign workers, plus it’s not always that easy to find the right people for the job.
“This new equipment will allow us to do more with fewer people, and that’s very important,” he says.
In another move to reduce waste and maximise profits, Oskam is also analysing the potential to produce purée and chutney from the non-export grade apples and pears that pass through the firm’s packhouses.
“We’d like to make a move in this new direction,” Oskam reveals. “We’ve not set a formal date for when we’ll begin as we’re only just starting to examine what we’ll need and how the market lies.”
Overall, Oskam says the company is looking to continue growing its business internationally.
“Since my father started the business in 1951 – when he built the first fruit coldstores that were ahead of their time – we have continued to develop the company; to make it bigger and even more international,” Oskam explains.
“There will always be new developments in the world and we will always try to be a part of the changing times.”
In essence, this is the secret to the company’s success. While many other Dutch growers and exporters have been consolidated into much larger organisations, such as The Greenery, Jan Oskam remains independent.
“For us, it’s a matter of dedication; we stick to our appointments, we have a no-nonsense mentality, and we always grant our customers a certain profit,” Oskam states.
“We are specialists too; apples and pears are in our genes. My grandfather was a fruit grower and my father after him made his own career in the fruit business. By the time I was seven or eight I was already dedicated to the business too.”
Jan Oskam will be exhibiting as part of the Dutch pavilion at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference 2017.
The event takes place on 15-17 November at the Westergasfabriek.
Register online here now.
Or contact us here to book a booth.