The Dutch company JPB exports non-perishable foods to customers around the world. It ships most products under its own label directly to their final destinations. According to director Jan Beemsterboer, JPB’s strength lies in its relationships with customers, suppliers and shippers. The main challenge we’re facing right now is the availability of sea containers.
JPB works with suppliers all over the world, says Beemsterboer. “We source and sell products all over the world – 99 per cent of our business is overseas.” The company focuses on frozen foods including vegetables, French fries, chicken and fish; fresh produce such as potatoes, onions and garlic; bulk foods like oils, rice and beans; and consumer goods including pasta, mayonnaise and mustard. They don’t keep products in stock, Beemsterboer says. “We’ll source rice in Vietnam, for example, and then sell it on to customers in Africa in our packaging. The suppliers make the packaging, and we supply the artwork.”
All JPB goods undergo quality checks by a local independent party before being sent out into the world. “JPB handles the financial side and all the paperwork,” Beemsterboer says. “It’s challenging; the unexpected can happen at any time. But generally, we keep it all under control.”
According to buyer William Nannes, the company’s biggest challenge right now is the poor availability of sea containers, an effect of the pandemic. “Covid brought the world to a halt. When everything started back up again, the containers were in places they wouldn’t normally be. They all had to be brought back home. Covid started in China. And once they resumed production, the US was at a standstill because of the pandemic. The whole country was full of containers that weren’t being emptied. Flows were interrupted, stocks ran out, plus people started hoarding. Think of a jar of mayonnaise – there was a shortage of glass, lids, boxes, personnel. Everything was scarce and expensive. It’ll take five years for those processes to get back to normal.”
The war in Ukraine and the energy crisis have also disrupted exports. We have to dig deeper to pay for everything, says Beemsterboer. “But at the end of the day, consumers in Africa have to be able to afford it too. Our advantage is that we export food, and people are still eating, but volumes are decreasing.” JPB doesn’t have contracts with packagers or shippers. Says Nannes, “We book a certain number of containers each week. We have a pretty good idea beforehand how many we need and how many are available. As an exporter, if you book a certain number per week, you have to use them. That can have financial consequences. It can be a disadvantage.”
The climate also presents challenges. For example, JPB gets rice from Pakistan, a country that found itself 30% underwater last summer because of flooding. And closer to home, a dry Dutch summer has sent the prices of vegetables like potatoes and onions soaring, Beemsterboer says. That doesn’t mean JPB is importing or exporting any less, though. “The world population is growing. Famine could become a huge problem. The war between Russia and Ukraine is going to create trouble for poorer countries. It’s causing unrest, and it could lead to serious problems. But as I said, people have to eat. Food has to be imported.”
JPB is one of the Netherlands’ foremost onion exporters. The company not only sells yellow and red onions all over the globe but also markets its own exclusive variety, Crimsun®. Crimsun® marries the optimum quality and vigour of yellow onions with a nuance of red and a pink colour, Nannes says. JPB developed the variety with De Groot en Slot and Bejo.
Onion exporters’ risks are increasing, says Nannes. “Onion prices are high, and transport is expensive. You have to be careful who you do business with. With Crimsun® we work on contract; the rest is all day trading. We supply a lot to Africa and the Far East, to developing countries, and we’ve occasionally had a customer who wasn’t able to pay. But we’re a healthy business, with financial elbow room. And as a rule, we only do business with customers we know can pay.”
Traders and farmers have to give each other some leeway, Nannes adds. With onion prices high, many growers have suspended sales in the hope of earning even more later. But is that wise? “You have to dance while the music plays,” the buyer says. “Growers who put their onions in storage have to factor in storage costs, percentage tare and high energy prices. Add it all up and those onions will need to bring in a lot more next year. I think growers are better off selling their onions before the end of the year. A year that starts off expensive can easily end up cheap.”
The importance of relationships
Beemsterboer says JPB’s strength lies in its good relationships with customers, suppliers and shippers. And that’s down to a great team. “Purchasing, logistics and sales have to work together. We provide quality at a good price. Of course, we sometimes have to deal with competition. You have to go along with changing prices.” Some countries, he observes, engage in protectionism in an effort to protect and boost their own produce. “Senegal closes its borders to Dutch onions at a certain point, and the Dominican Republic has permits. And you have to deal with that on the client side.”
To keep its business relationships in good shape, it’s important for JPB to attend the big food trade fairs, like those in Paris, Dubai and Singapore. “We travel a lot,” Beemsterboer says. “We know who the big players are, and we visit our customers at least once a year. There are a lot of factors and scenarios to take into account if we want to stay successful in the decades to come. Whatever happens, our people, our network and our brands are always our top priorities. We’ll always support people who want to grow their organizations in good, sustainable ways.”