Ethiopia and Senegal are not the first two countries to spring to mind when it comes to the supply of fresh vegetables to the UK, but all that could be about to change with the arrival of Van Oers United, a Dutch company that has made producing in Africa something of a speciality
Although based closed to Rotterdam, Van Oers’s production focus is on Africa, where company founder, Karel Van Oers, has established farms in Senegal, Ethiopia and Morocco to produce a variety of fresh vegetables, including green beans, peppers and tomatoes.
In fact, although the company also sources from the Netherlands and Spain, by far the bulk of its vegetable volumes are exported from Africa.
According to Van Oers business development manager, Harry Vervelde, the extent of the company’s farming interests in Africa give it a distinct advantage when it comes to serving clients in the UK and continental Europe as its geographical spread means it can deliver year-round continuity and quality.
“We have a very stable supply due to the fact that we are growing in different locations, such as Morocco, Senegal and Ethiopia, which are our main production areas,” he explains. “The success of Van Oers is based on the strength of own production and our solid partnership with growers. One of our unique selling points is that we can deliver year-round supply, so we can be a one-stop for retailers.”
Serious about expansion
An international fresh vegetable business, Van Oers was already well established as a fresh vegetable supplier to foodservice operators and grocery retailers in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, before beginning “serious exports” two years ago to the UK and Ireland.
“We’re looking to extend our business on an export basis because our production areas can produce more than what we are selling at the moment, and we are looking to deepen our relationship with our existing customers” he explains.
Van Oers, which was acquired by French group Agrial’s Priméale subsidiary in 2015, sells open-field and greenhouse vegetables to retailers, wholesalers and foodservice companies in more than 15 European countries, and recorded a turnover of €260million in 2015.
Focus on specialities
Van Oers supplies the UK customers with Brussels sprouts, beans, (green, fine and helda), snow peas, sugar snaps, spring onions, sweetcorn and radishes, and in smaller quantities peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes; the majority of which go to retail customers through importers and service providers.
“We specialise in a few items which we are very good at because we have all the necessary certifications in food safety and sustainability, and we are certain we are a reliable partner, especially for retail and food service clients,” says Vervelde.
However, he believes there is room yet to expand Van Oers’ exports to the UK, in particular the company’s specialities, such as green and fine beans, and Brussels sprouts, as well as the tomatoes and peppers being produced in Morocco and the Netherlands.
Vervelde also believes that the convenience products that Van Oers markets in its domestic market could work effectively for UK retailers and caterers. “We have some convenience products here in the Netherlands which we are supplying mainly to foodservice clients, but also to supermarkets, including sliced green beans and Brussels sprouts – this is something we are looking at that could be extended to the UK market,” he adds.
Van Oers United is exhibiting at The London Produce Show and Conference on June 8-10 at the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane. Register for the show here.