Interview Eurofruit - A spring in their step
11 July 2014 - Seven years since it first began trading, Dutch company HillFresh has attracted plaudits from the financial press for its impressive and rapid growth.
Fresh produce importer HillFresh International was recently recognised by the Financiële Dagblad as one of the fastest-growing companies in the Netherlands, landing itself a place in the Dutch newspaper's top 100 'Gazellen' (Gazelles). We asked Martijn van Asperen, the company's head of business development`, to explain how it has grown so quickly. ''We refer to ourselves as The Expert in Taste and we go the extra mile in order to ensure this is, and remains, true,'' Van Asperen explains. ''The needs of our customers, the major retailers, are our driving force. We take them to the source and allow them to become acquainted with the people behind the products.''
In Spain, for example, HillFresh has its own people in place to ensure local production and logistics processes are perfected. ''Nobody needs to face unexpected surprises as a result of this transparent and top-quality way of working, not even when the orders are delivered direct to the customer,'' says Martijn van Asperen. ''We also have intensive contact with seed processing companies, ensuring we are always the first to know about any new varieties and optimised products. We will thereby link into a trend or provide concrete control.''
Product quality matters to HillFresh too. It is now working with Wageningen University and four seed companies - Enza Zaden, Sakata, Monsanto and Nunhems - to develop a unique Taste Matrix for melons that will be used by an experienced panel to index subjective qualitative values such as taste, texture and aroma. This will allow the group to identify successful new varieties and fast-track their development. ''Of course, we always keep the specific requirements of customers and countries in mind,'' Van Asperen points out. ''Being actively involved with all parties in the chain, literally from source to plate, means we need all possible information to realise purposeful innovation.''
One such innovation to emerge at HillFresh is the Kirene Galia melon, developed by Nunhems. The changing colour of the fruit's skin from green to yellow coincides neatly with its ripening, which means growers know precisely when to harvest and consumers know exactly when to buy. Its taste and sugar content are said to be the same as traditional melons, yet it has a long shelf-life with firm flesh, making it ideal for retail and processing. No surprise then that Kirene reportedly now commands a 50 percent share of the market in Dutch supermarkets during July and August.
''Our enthusiasm for taste is just as applicable to our assortment of grapes, citrus, kiwifruit and tomatoes, where a great deal of innovation can still be realised,'' Van Asperen adds. ''It also goes without saying that taste is only one element of business development. Optimisation of the entire cold chain is also being addressed: from streamlining to automation, from food safety to sourcing; improvements can be made in literally every link of the chain.
HillFresh regularly taps into new growing areas too, including countries like Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal and Guatemala, where its sweet winter melon MayaMoon comes from. Thsi new product, which offers sweetness in the winter season, was launched at the recent Fruit Logistica trade fair. ''The positive reactions we received during the exhibition are confirmation that we are on the right track.''
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