LPS19: Despite challenges, Britain and Holland's fresh produce relationship remains strong

June 03 , 2019

From the pages of Produce Business UK

In 2018, the value of fresh fruit and vegetable exports from Holland to the UK was valued at €1.2 billion, a 1% lift compared to the previous year. These figures show the relationship between the two countries remains strong despite a time of political uncertainty where Britain’s place in the European Union has more ups and downs than a rollercoaster.

Historically, the two nations have worked closely within the fresh produce industry primarily because of their close geographical proximity. Subsequently, it’s become an everyday occurrence to buy produce imported from Holland in a British supermarket.

“The relationship is still so strong because of the increased need of UK businesses to reduce costs and at the same time maintain their market position through the high service level Dutch businesses can bring,” says Wilco van den Berg, who is part of the marketing team at fruit producer GroentenFruit Huis. “This gives an extra added value in these times of great uncertainty.

“As a UK business you can reliably order in the morning and have fresh fruit and veg delivered to your door before midnight. This allows for low stock and you can still maintain high flexibility in the market with a long shelf life. The produce grown in the Netherlands is also of high quality and complies with the latest standards as demanded by UK customers.”

Last year, the top five exported types of fresh produce from Holland to the UK were tomatoes (€279m), sweet peppers (€203m), cucumbers (€102m), onions (€74m) and avocados (€50m). And this strong relationship will proudly be on display at this year’s London Produce Show and Conference, which runs from June 5th to the 7th at London’s Grosvenor House, with Dutch exhibitors out in force. One of them, Henny van de Wetering of green veg supplier Valstar, says 7.1% of the Netherlands’ total imports and exports now goes to the UK. For Valstar it’s even more important, with 23% of its products exported to the UK market.

HARD CHALLENGES AHEAD

Wetering admits Brexit is putting a pressure on this historically fruitful union and has a few concerns about what’s on the horizon. “We must take into account that a hard Brexit is almost unavoidable. We prepare for the worst scenario but also hope for a workable solution.

“If a hard Brexit will take place, all the business between the United Kingdom and European Union will be covered by the WTO (World Trade Organization). This means customs declarations must be made again, import rates will be applied and customs controls must be held at the border, which will result in longer waiting times, higher costs and more administration.”

As a result of things going through the WTO rather than the EU, he says there’s a possibility of stricter regulations being imposed on both imports and exports, which means they might have to be checked multiple times.

“Stricter requirements may be imposed to the quality of products in terms of import and export,” he says. “As a fruit and vegetable exporter, we will have to prove that our products meet the required quality by means of a phytosanitary certificate. This certificate is a statement in which the authorities of the country of origin declare that these products are healthy and do not suffer from a disease. The customs in the EU will have to assess the declaration and decide if the products can or cannot be exported.

“But the products have to meet the requirements of the United Kingdom, as well. So when the products arrive at the terminal or port, it is possible that the customs want to check the documents or products once again. This can cause longer waiting times for our products to arrive at the destination, which will dent the freshness of the product and therefore create more waste.”

These are concerns shared by Berg, who says interference in the supply chain could diminish reliability. He believes the biggest challenge will “be for the industry to sit together with their respective governments on how to ensure that official standards have been met with a systematic approach rather than on a consignment-by-consignment basis; for grouped transport this would be disastrous. It’s just a pity that bi-lateral talks between our governments are out of the question because of the current political situation.”

VALUE REMAINS ON BOTH SIDES

However, Berg also sees the value in respecting the decision of the British people to leave the EU and says Dutch suppliers must do what they can to help the UK find the best possible solution.

“We feel it remains important to show that we respect the political decisions that have been taken and that the best way to move forward is to find solutions for the new reality,” Berg says. “Only then can we secure a healthy produce industry in the interest of the UK consumer, who like every human being, needs access to healthy, sustainable produce for a fair price.”

There’s a sense that despite the obvious disadvantages from Brexit, no one wants these two nations’ great relationship to end and will do everything it takes to create a good outcome. A large number of fruit and veg sold in the UK is imported, with 84% of fruit and 43% of vegetables eaten in the UK in 2017 imported from the EU and non-EU countries. A team of researchers from the University of Liverpool and Imperial College London found that under a no-deal Brexit, the cost of bananas would rise by approximately 17%, citrus fruits by 14% and tomatoes by 15%. Wetering says this reality means the UK will have to do everything in its power to minimize any risk of prices rising, something they can only do by working closely with the Dutch, a country happy to remain a close ally.

“We are continuously looking for new opportunities in terms of new varieties, more sustainable package solutions, which is becoming more and more a topic, and transport possibilities. We’re also looking to innovate when it comes to our relationship with the UK, which takes about a quarter of our business.

“Since the UK is not self-sufficient at all, it is extremely important to have a close relationship and to anticipate in an efficient way the needs of the UK consumer. With our knowledge, innovations and logistical structure, I believe the Dutch can fulfill this need.”

DUTCH ON DISPLAY

Valstar and Holland Fresh Group are among a host of Dutch companies that will be exhibiting or represented at the London Produce Show next week. Others who are scheduled to attend are:

  • Satori Holland, whose specialty is importing root vegetables and limes, primarily from Latin America but other countries as well.
  • Van Geest Inernational, which offer a daily fresh assortment of produce.
  • Scherpenhuizen, a family-owned business based in Eindhoven that is one of the largest salad exporters in the Netherlands.
  • Wiskerke Onions, a packer and exporter of a wide variety of onions for the consumer market.
  • Haluco, a greenhouse vegetable and global produce imports company.
  • Levarht, a fruit-and-vegetable importer-distributor; and
  • Snijpunt, which supplies pre-cut vegetables to Europe’s leading manufacturers and foodservice and retail operators.
  • Rainbow International, a leading supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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