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”The fruit industry will consolidate strongly“

The portrait photo of a blonde woman, Janine Luten, in a white blazer.

Janine Luten, CEO Holand Fresh Group © Holland Fresh Group

Ms. Luten, congratulations! You are at FRUIT LOGISTICA for the 25th time with the Holland Fresh Group. What can visitors look forward to on your stand?
Janine Luten: For our companies, FRUIT LOGISTICA is probably the most important event of the year. It is here that they meet all their customers and suppliers. Over a period of three days the whole world gathers in Berlin to discuss and do business in the fresh fruit sector. And our national colour orange will be very visible, again. In Hall 3.2 our displays occupy 3,200 square metres, and 156 of our companies are in Berlin to present their latest innovations and eco-friendly solutions for the food market.

How are you celebrating this anniversary?
On Wednesday, we are inviting everybody to a seminar, where various experts will provide an overview of the latest consumption figures, trends and innovations. For example, there will be a speech on the advantages of AI-based data management. Another speech will be about experience with PEFCR – the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules. But we are definitely also getting together with our members to celebrate with a drink on Wednesday night, at the end of the first day of the fair.

At the same time, the international fruit and vegetable sector is under enormous pressure.
Indeed, there is a lot going on that affects our sector: the war between Hamas and Israel, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the attacks in the Red Sea – ships to or from China, for example, have to make a detour around the Cape in South Africa. So it takes more time for products to arrive in Rotterdam, which is the main gateway for Europe’s food imports. Then of course there is the big topic of climate change and water shortages. Climate change is occasionally causing product shortfalls.

How does that affect Dutch companies?
Last year, for example, we had the gas supply crisis and were unable to produce in winter. Almost simultaneously there was a cold spell in Spain during spring – the result was a shortage of products. And there was a period of empty shelves in the supermarkets. We will see this more and more in the future. That is why Dutch companies are looking for products from all over the world, now, in order to guarantee their full range of supplies. One cost factor is the fight against drug trafficking. We have a big problem with cocaine coming from South America to Europe. Our members have to invest a lot of money to ensure our transportation system is not misused for smuggling drugs. It is a dangerous situation.

What are the consequences of all these factors driving costs?
Of course, we are not the only ones under pressure. But for the Netherlands I can say that entrepreneurship is getting really difficult. Costs are rising sharply, labour costs, energy, transport – you name it. Small companies operating on their own can hardly cope with the situation. I am sure we will see the market consolidating, as was already the case in the florist market. In order to survive, companies will have to be part of a solid supply chain, from producers worldwide through to retail. There will be a growing need for clear tagging and tracking.

Looking on the brighter side of business: Dutch companies are renowned for their innovative strength. So, with regard to the long-term challenges of climate change and water shortages, what trends are there?
Just to highlight two trends: the bigger companies are tending towards robotics and automation, also in response to labour costs and shortages. Also on the rise is the new technique of ozone water treatment, which is used not only in greenhouses but also in fruit packing stations. UV ozone light generators clean water without chlorine or other chemicals and keep it in circulation.

How do you see the long-term future of the fruit and vegetable sector?
Despite all the challenges that we face right now, there is certainly one ray of hope: I am convinced that demand for fruit and vegetables will continue to rise significantly. We all need to eat more fruit and vegetables to stay healthy. That is one thing we can rely on: we have a very healthy product with a low carbon footprint, demand for which will continue to grow.

Seminar: Wednesday, February 7, 12.30 to 2 p.m., RVO lounge, Hall 3.2 I C-25