At this year’s edition of The London Produce Show and Conference, we were honored to welcome Kees Rijnhout, the CEO of Jaguar, a global fresh group that manages the global sourcing and sales of fresh produce.
Kees Rijnhout has been very actively involved as an entrepreneur in the food industry since 1980. He is the owner of Jaguar The Fresh Company, and is also a supporting investor in various trading and production companies. As a supporting investor, he contributes intensively to the (re)development of companies, and focuses on creating synergy benefits in different areas.
In 2006, Kees Rijnhout acquired a small Dutch family concern specialized in fresh produce trading. Since then he has built Jaguar The Fresh Company into a global fresh produce specialist with offices on four continents. In addition, he has developed Jaguar New Energies, a South African specialist in providing solar energy solutions to fruit growers. At the London Produce Show, Kees provided insights into how his teams have managed to stay at the forefront of developments commercially, and with a focus on sustainability.
We asked Steven Loeb, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS Magazine to talk to Kees about the technology the company uses in fruit sourcing, how the pandemic affected its sustainability strategy, and how he was able to take his small family concern and take it global.
Jaguar The Fresh Company
Q: What kind of technology do you deploy in your fruit sourcing? How do you ensure you’re getting the healthiest and most sustainable products?
A: We call it FOTG: Feet on the ground! Jaguar has a solid team of fresh specialists who operate in all the countries from where we source fruit. Our technical teams ensure that every shipment is checked and double checked. Whilst we would love to say that our quality successes are based on technology, nothing is less true. The skills of our people make all the difference!
Q: Talk about how Covid-19 affected sustainability. Did it put more pressure on companies like yours to pursue environmental sustainability and ethical trading?
A: It sounds a bit sanctimonious, but when Covid hit we just kept on doing what we have always been doing: sourcing and supplying great quality from professional grower-partners, using a least-cost logistics system. We focused even more on the decades-long reliability of the Jaguar brand. But in terms of sustainability we just ‘did our thing’ as always. This includes projects around social sustainability, supporting growers with solar energy solutions, and participating in projects around soil health and water security.
Q: What was the new strategy that Jaguar implemented due to the pandemic? How does it differ from what you were doing before?
A: For one, Covid caused us to rethink workplace productivity. As many other companies learnt, we also came to understand that good people will rise to the challenge. Throughout the pandemic we never had more than 30% of our staff present at the office. The rest worked from home, and we did not see any drop in productivity. We are blessed with a really great and loyal workforce, so we did not have to change course – we simply had to allow our people to fly.
Q: How does Jaguar New Energies fit into your overall sustainability initiative?
A: We believe that South African growers will be faced with more and more challenges regarding electricity. Imagine having a full crop ready to be packed and the electricity ceases? Most growers have back-up generators, but these mostly run on ‘dirty’ diesel. With JNE our purpose is threefold: providing growers with a sustainable solution to their energy issues; ensuring that no fruit goes lost due to the non-availability of electricity; and finally, making a contribution to the environment by having lower emissions.
Q: I’m interested in your plan to build out your social sustainability. How will you make sure that the growers, local authorities, supply chain partners and non-profit organisations you work with all benefit?
A: The first thing we have done in 2022 was to set up a strategic action plan. With the imminent EU directive on governance and compliance it is clear that every company needs to have a firm grip on its progress in terms of sustainability. This action plan forms the backbone for the future, and we will be working on the basis of a list of priorities to engage with specific stakeholders as we move deeper into our action plan. In South Africa we call it ‘consultative dialogue’ – it is a slow process but very productive!
Q: How did you take a small Dutch family concern and grow it into a global concern? Why can’t others achieve the same and what would you say to an ambitious young person about how to build a business nowadays?
A: At the core of our business has always been the focus on building a ‘family’. Our people in overseas countries are not micro-managed, but are given freedom to create and room to move. Of course, other companies may disagree and will argue that strong discipline and management is needed in order to ‘control’ people and protect your investment. I tend to disagree. My advice to young people? Identify your dream, surround yourself with other young people who dare to challenge you, and then work with passion!
Q: What was the key takeaway of your recent talk at the the London Produce Show?
A: The world of fresh produce is still an amazing one to work in. My personal focus for the coming year is to bring new young talents on board and give them wings. And to retain my extremely loyal staff and support them in transferring their skills. With this I want to increase the position of ‘plant power’ in the world. As Jim Prevor often says: we are on the side of the angels!
Somewhere I have an old photo. The Prevor family business was on the old Washington Street Market in Manhattan and it wasn’t much more than a few people and some phones. The photo shows a small sign identifying the family business but overshadowed by a larger sign identifying a company, General Produce, that owned the building. My father wasn’t a particularly sentimental guy, but he liked this photo for, in time, we bought General Produce and, as my father taught me, it was a reminder that, with smarts and dedication, the minnow can sometimes swallow the whale.