TRADE AND MARKE T ING Export company must be flexible When you see all those bags easily pass through this Dinteloord business, and a few hours later they are manoeuvred into a ship’s hold, you would almost think that no work was involved. But an interview with Bas Rijk, managing director of Verhagen BV in the Netherlands, explains that the export trade is unpredictable, that you must be extremely flexible and what’s more, you must always be available. That‘s why the telephone is not completely switched off during our talk. cessing about 100,000 tonnes during a single season, “says Rijk. Today, export and supply to the industry are much the same as far as product turnover is concerned. Ware potatoes are no longer handled at the premises. It may be ‘passed on trade’, but it is a necessary sector for Verhagen. “We need this line to keep our growers happy, for some contract work, and to have reserves between export and ware. “ Bas Rijk typifies Verhagen BV in one sentence, after having answered another important phone call. “We are also in the processing industry, but that is more ‘passed on trade’.” The 75-year-history of this trading company shows that it was not always like that. Like many other potato trading companies, the business was started from a farm by the Verhagen brothers Leen and Henk. First they started grading for fellow-farmers and later they started trading. In the nineteen fifties, potato export increased explosively in the Netherlands; it was the period in which the Verhagen’s also did very well. A few decades later, in the seventies and eighties, industrial potato processing developed rapidly; and again Verhagen moved with the times. “Depending on the year, the company was then proE xport is the trade where we earn our money”, that’s how Different every year It is essential for the Dutch potato export trade to have lots that can be used for either purpose, explains Rijk. “The export is different every year. One year southern Europe is an important market, next year it is Russia or West Africa. It has always been like that. As an export company, you need to be very good at finding gaps in the market. At any rate, this is a quality Dutch traders are known for. The problem is not so much that the destinations are different from year to year, but that all these countries want different kinds of potatoes: that is the problem. First it is the chips factory in Spain that wants Agrias, then it is the Russians that ask for red-skinned consumption potatoes.” And then I haven’t said anything yet about the West African market, says Rijk with a meaningful look in his eyes. “You can’t just send them any variety. You need good and strong potatoes. There are only a few varieties that you can send, Bintje, for example. I’m talking about a fortnight in a ship’s hold, in refrigerated containers that are not exactly ideal, and that are unloaded at temperatures of about 40 Potatoworld 2006 19 Pagina 18

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