A.N. Boekel Handel BV is a commercial enterprise specialised in the import and export of, among other products, onions, potatoes, and outdoor vegetables. The company is located in Waarland, the centre of the horticultural area of North Holland. In more than 40 years, Boekel has grown from cultivation company to trade company in the broadest sense of the word. Bas Francis talks about the latest developments within the company.
A.N. Boekel supplies a wide range of outdoor vegetables. The ‘bulk vegetables’ are the headed cabbage crops, celeriac, carrot crops, beetroots, onions, potatoes, and in summer also cauliflower, iceberg lettuce and broccoli. Parsley root and parsnip have also become major products for the company by now. “We discovered them in the Eastern bloc and in Scandinavia, and we started with them in 2000, by setting up the cultivation, processing and sales with a grower and a processor. Over the years we used the same formula to add a few more products, also called our specialities, such as coloured carrots (yellow, purple and rainbow), Jerusalem artichoke, coloured beetroots (chioggia, yellow and white) and black radish. This was all done by trial and error, because they are fairly difficult products to cultivate, store and process. By now the area for this is about 100 hectares. These are important products for A.N. Boekel that are also experiencing increasing demand, which join in with the logistics and sales of the bulk products.”
When asked whether any shifts have been noticeable on the market, Bas answers he hasn’t seen any major shifts, production-wise. “We have noticed that oxheart cabbage is winning ground at the expense of white cabbage when exporting to Germany and Scandinavia. Oxheart cabbage is characterised as a more flavourful product, and these countries are also willing to pay more for it. After all, the cost price of oxheart cabbage is three times as high as that of white and red cabbage.”
According to Bas, much is changing in the field of packaging. “The developments are coming very quickly. In recent years, we have seen that the role of importers for outdoor products is becoming increasingly smaller in Europe. The import companies and packing stations often bought standard or bulk packaging in the past, which they personally repacked to their desired retail packaging. Demanding supermarkets still do this to a certain degree, but we are also seeing more and more retail organisations importing directly in the desired packaging. Because of these developments, the range of packaging is becoming broader, and the packaging itself is becoming smaller, as regards content. The packaging is often provided with a day code and customer-specific information. Because of this development, the order size of each product decreases, but while in the past people ordered one full car per week, people now order a few pallets per day. This is a good development in itself, because it results in fresher products on the shelves, and this also increases turnover rate. However, this development does require a good product availability, flexibility in packing and logistics. We have seen that this is the future, and try to anticipate this with our suppliers.”
The company does this by integrating the processing of a number of products, and celeriac in particular, into the own company process. “By going back to a permanent group of growers as much as possible, we know our stocks and therefore we know what we have to sell. Because of that, we have more influence on quality, availability and stability in price. After all, more and more trade is based on weekly programmes.”
The company strategy is bearing fruit. Over the years, Boekel outgrew its building in Waarland. Founder Ad Boekel was a grower originally, and started the vegetable company in 1975. Forty years later, the company is good for an annual turnover of more than 120,000 pallets of own trade. As of 1 December, the company, that is specialised in transport in addition to vegetable trading, has been working from a new building in industrial estate Breekland in Oudkarpsel. Is the new building to their liking? “It was truly necessary to move. We had too little processing, shipping and cell space, and moreover, there was a problem with power and data supplies. We now have three times as many loading and unloading platforms, no more waiting times, and accessibility from the new location is much better.”
The move was also a chance to build a premises that completely meet the requirements of this day and age, and has space for further growth. The old building had a surface of 3,700 square metres and four dock boards, whereas the company now has 10,500 square metres, and is completely conditioned. “We have chosen a central system with environmentally friendly coolant ammonia (NH3), with heat recovery for our celeriac drying rooms and 12 dock boards. We also invested in new and faster packing lines, so that more can be packed at the same time. Growing is important, after all, standing still is the same as going backwards. The new building and the new installation offers plenty of opportunities to realise this. We hope to give this an interpretation by combining a wide range of outdoor vegetables, diversity in our packaging and flexibility in our logistics.”