Gaining a competitive edge is never easy. The difficulty is enhanced because most industries operate on a kind of closed information loop. Everyone goes to the same events, reads the same publications, talks to the same people – how is anyone going to acquire a sustainable differentiated edge?
I always thought I was fortunate in that though my family business was focused on produce, a part of it was a business exporting produce to the Caribbean from America. Though we could ship full trailers to some islands such as grapes, apples and pears to the Dominican Republic for Christmas, and on core products such as potatoes we could bring full boats of potatoes from Maine and Prince Edward Island in Canada down to Puerto Rico and Trinidad, there was also a substantial mixed-load business to smaller islands. In a sense we were like a service wholesaler delivering to individual supermarkets and hotels but via boat rather than truck.
Many of these customers couldn’t fill up even a 20-foot container just with fresh produce, so they put us in the business of buying other refrigerated items. I remember visiting one of my father’s old customers, Henderson’s Supermarket in Curaçao, and seeing the shelves stocked not just with our fruits and vegetables but also cheese, yoghurt, butters and other items we had gotten into.
In time, this introduction to other items led us to ship many of these items as well frozen eviscerated poultry and eggs, all around the world.
In my own professional career, after we launched PRODUCE BUSINESS, this exposure to other foods and products made it a natural to launch magazines such as DELI BUSINESS, CHEESE CONNOISSEUR and FLORAL BUSINESS. In one of the unintended consequences of diversifying into these fields, something unusual happened – I became a lot better at thinking about the produce industry.
Why was this? Basically by going to events in other fields I learned things that if not precisely secrets, were not common knowledge in the fresh produce industry. So I saw things through a different prism and thus provided value that others, schooled only in produce, could not.
Soon enough I learned that though the great continental events in produce were indispensable, that was both strength and weakness. After all if attendance is ubiquitous, it becomes a kind of ante for playing the game. But, almost by definition, one can’t differentiate oneself by doing only exactly what everyone else does.
As we have built a network of events, The New York Produce Show and Conference, The London Produce Show and Conference and now, next month, the inaugural edition of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, this has always struck me as the most compelling reason for participation: That one can gain a competitive edge by doing things that others don’t.
In Amsterdam the focus is above and beyond the tasks that define the produce trade on a day to day basis. Four core themes – innovation, sustainability, education and health – challenge attendees to glimpse the future. To understand the role that produce and produce companies can play in the years to come.
Drawing on the Netherlands and the Dutch produce industry is key. There are many places with good growers, there are quite a number with excellent businesspeople and there are places that are leaders in technology and still others that have trading in their very blood – yet Holland uniquely combines these elements and thus offers the world a unique opportunity to learn how the integration of these insights and skill sets can, quite literally, determine \the success or failure of an operation and, perhaps, even the future of the industry.
Though, of course, we have many retailers and big buyers on panels, many of the speakers, drawn from fields such as medicine and education, are strangers to the produce trade. Few members of the industry will have ever heard any of them speak. Which is, of course, the point. That one can only earn an edge by exposing oneself to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
Offering unusual perspectives in places that are the very centres of learning and culture, has had another unanticipated consequence, it turned out that the attendees at these events were not middling. They are the best and brightest. People from all corners of the globe who gather to elevate themselves.
Of course they do commerce, but, more than that, they realise value can come from building deep and lasting relationships that form in intimate communities, they realise that engaging with the agenda of tomorrow, helps them position their companies, and themselves, for success today.
They realise that a competitive edge comes from stepping out, going beyond the norm, beyond the common. It is to these values that The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference is dedicated. It is to people who commit to these values that the event is of service. Who knew it could all grow out of a visit to a supermarket in what was then an “island territory” of the now dissolved Netherlands Antilles halfway across the globe? Nobody knew, of course, but being open to new things is the start of finding new ways to succeed. Ways that address the challenges of the decades to come.