Attendees of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference are invited on a special tour of Robinson Fresh’s new HQ by Robert Walseleben, director European business at Robinson Fresh, C.H. Robinson European headquarters. Here he shares his thoughts with the Perishable Pundit on attracting talent to the business and where its growth opportunities lie
Almost every large-scale event for the produce industry that had been done in Holland was done in Rotterdam, the big port where much of the produce industry is located. Yet when we looked at the location for an event in the Netherlands we didn’t hesitate. We knew that Amsterdam was the place with the global appeal, an outward-facing show, attracting people from all corners of the globe, had to be in Amsterdam.
When it came to identifying allies for this point of view, we didn’t have to look far. Robinson Fresh has its headquarters in Amsterdam and the reason tells us a lot about Robinson Fresh and C.H. Robinson. The business model for these companies is about integration and supply chain management. It is about consumer analytics and value-creation. It is an old organisation, but this is not your grandparent’s produce company.
As a result, the key driver of the business is talent, which means that Robinson Fresh wanted to locate in the place that bright young people prefer to live in, and management saw Amsterdam as a magnet for the creative minds of the up-and-coming. We asked if Robinson Fresh would share this innovative impulse with the industry and they quickly agreed.
So we were able to integrate a tour of the Robinson Fresh headquarters as part of the program. We asked Pundit investigator and special projects editor Mira Slott to find out more about this American giant that has made its European capital in Amsterdam.
director European business
C.H. Robinson European headquarters
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Q: We’re excited Robinson Fresh will be participating in the Amsterdam Produce Show…
A: Logically we’ve been supporting The London Produce Show and Conference since its founding. We did the global unveil for our Robinson Fresh branding at the London event. The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference is a sound extension of that concept and we are happy to support the service to the industry that events such as this represent. The fact that our European headquarters are located in Amsterdam made it an easy decision to lend our support.
Most fruit and vegetable companies in the Netherlands are based in Rotterdam. Yet Amsterdam is the great iconic city of the Netherlands, a magnet that attracts people from around the world. Robinson Fresh is the only produce company on a global scale that resides in Amsterdam. So being involved in the show is a way to welcome the produce industry to our European hometown!
We want to play a role in bringing this resource to the community and helping pivot the attention of the global produce community to the Netherlands and Amsterdam. It is an amazing city and an amazing country, a fulcrum for ideas and innovation. At Robinson Fresh we are proud to be part of the community and want to support it in every way possible.
The Robinson Fresh division shares corporate offices with CH Robinson’s transportation and logistics service headquarters. It is a new facility for us specifically designed to promote innovation by appealing to a rich talent pool drawn from nearby schools and start-up ventures. Not only are we in Amsterdam, which itself is a magnet for global talent, we are in an up-and-coming neighbourhood where bright, creative people love to be.
Friday, the day after the tradeshow, The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference runs a series of regional tours. We are pleased to contribute by opening our doors to the industry. The tour starts off with a visit to Amsterdam’s Food Centre Wholesale Market, the local wholesale market in Amsterdam. Many sturdy, long-established companies that are focused on the local trade, then we take the participants to see the total opposite side of the industry when they visit our facilities. If you’re interested in seeing this $13.5 billion company’s European headquarters, this is your chance. Those were last year’s figures. It’s a big company, 43 offices in Europe alone.
Q: And what is your role?
A: I’m responsible for the Robinson Fresh business in Europe as the director.
Q: From your perspective, what are the key industry trends? And within your company, where do you see the biggest growth opportunities and challenges?
A: We are seeing global industry trends shifting with the changing retail buyer and consumer behaviours. The current environment of retail consolidation, centralised procurement, new consumer generational or demographic preferences, and the growing relevance of e-commerce are all opportunities and challenges the industry faces.
Q: Could you share your different strategies to address these multifaceted changes?
A: At Robinson Fresh, we utilise our integrated product and supply chain knowledge, consumer insights expertise, and industry analysis to help our customers identify important category trends and emerging patterns that will impact their business and help inform for better decisions.
Q: How do these relationships with your customers work exactly? Are retailers placing higher demands or increased responsibilities on produce suppliers? Are your customers consolidating their customer bases? Do retailers welcome your expertise and involvement in managing the supply chain?
A: Global cold chain expertise has become more important than ever, as retailers are focusing on shorter transit times to improve quality and freshness through integrated logistics solutions. Also, as purchasing decisions are becoming more consolidated and global in nature, retailers are seeing solutions to lower costs, improve communication and visibility, and create assurance of supply. At Robinson Fresh, supply chain visibility through our global technology platform allows our clients to have visibility of their products all the way back to the source.
Q: How important is The Netherlands to Robinson Fresh and the European produce industry?
A: The Netherlands plays a very significant role in the European fresh industry. Having the largest port facilities in Europe, Rotterdam is the most significant gateway for fresh imports to the European continent. Antwerp just over the border in Belgium is also an important import hub. For products that are air-freighted Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is another import point of entry into Europe.
Although produce vendors always focus on retail, that is not always the whole story. In the Netherlands there are around 52 or 53 large-scale produce companies that represent probably 75% plus of all produce imports into continental Europe with the exception of bananas. The Netherlands really is the heart of the continental produce industry.
Since the EU 28 are net importers of fruits and vegetables, Rotterdam’s terminals, facilities, and logistics infrastructure are ideally positioned as the preeminent import hub for the vast majority of fresh produce imports into the rest of Europe.
We are one of the few global suppliers in the world that can fully control the entire cold chain from the farm to shelf and also analyse consumer buying preferences. This control of the complete cold chain means there are no excuses, no pointing fingers — we perform.
Q: How is Robinson Fresh leveraging industry infrastructure in The Netherlands?
A: As I mentioned, Robinson Fresh is based in Amsterdam, and we are integrated with our C.H. Robinson European logistics operations and headquarters. Leveraging our logistical capabilities and Rotterdam’s infrastructure allows us to develop the most efficient cold chain solutions for our EU customers.
Q: Where does Robinson Fresh see specific geographic areas of opportunity globally?
A: Robinson Fresh is currently in a global growth mode, with expansion and presence in multiple geographies around the world. Our multinational retail customers have been a priority in determining where and when Robinson Fresh brings its unique value to new geographies and markets.
Q: Could you elaborate on that unique value?
A: We are advantaged in what we do in our supply chain because we have solutions that really encompass supply chain management. We have been a produce company for 110 years, but we’re also a massive logistics company. So we marry those two capabilities together to bring value to our customers.
We’re in a market where things are constantly changing. This is a brand new office. We just moved in here last April. We outgrew our old space, and moved to double the size. We needed more space to grow.
The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference will be held about a kilometre from our new office. Westerpark, where the event will take place, is an iconic site. It is known for Amsterdam Fashion Week, food truck festivals and concerts, and there are many nice restaurants in the centre of a big park. It’s a great venue for the show.
It’s very exciting. We’re now in 19 countries in Europe, and we’re looking to expand our footprint. Every country is different. In our office, I have people from 11 nationalities sitting around my desk, and collectively speaking 27 different languages. We’re a pretty international company, which is one of our value propositions to connect with customers across Europe.
Q: Do you think the Amsterdam Produce Show will be a valuable avenue to make more of these connections?
A: Yes. Remember you have a lot of unique elements coming together in this event.
First, you have this incredible location at the heart of this enormous and affluent European market.
Second, the show provides the Netherlands and the Dutch produce industry an opportunity to showcase its achievements and importance. The world looking at the Netherlands sees incredible growing operations, including world-class controlled environment agriculture, top-flight logistics, a sophisticated business intelligence and more.
Third, many events focus just on producers and retailers; here you have this enormous re-export powerhouse that really exists nowhere else in the world.
Fourth, Jim Prevor, aka The Perishable Pundit, specialises in gathering thought leadership with serious intellectual firepower, and this event is focused on high-level concerns such as innovation, sustainability, education and health — the kind of big picture, forward thinking perspective that can really help people, companies and the industry progress.
It is going to be a diverse group of interesting people doing interesting things. One imagines there will be a lot of talk of Brexit and the implications of that for the produce industry. But there are also people coming from around the world with their own concerns. It is going to make for some really excellent discussions, and we here at Robinson Fresh are just so pleased to be able to play a part in creating this new industry resource where one didn’t exist before.
Come visit Amsterdam’s Food Centre Wholesale Market and visit the headquarters of Robinson Fresh and C.H.Robinson in Amsterdam. In fact, come join us for the entire event; the inaugural edition of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
Here is a piece recently written on the Pundit introducing the event:
Here is a small brochure:
Here is the show website:
You can register for the event right here.
And book a hotel in the official headquarters hotel right here.
We look forward to seeing you in Amsterdam!