Top Harvest has expanded its range and sales markets considerably in recent years. "We used to export mainly Western European bulk products, like potatoes, carrots, and onions. Now, we offer our worldwide customers the full fruit and vegetable range," says Nicolas Vandenbogaerde.
He and his wife, Delphine Vanhaelewyn, run this Belgian trading company which was founded in 2016 and directly supplies European produce. "Markets, such as the one in West Africa, were becoming noticeably more self-sufficient in bulk products. So we wanted to meet the demand of new clients, in several parts of the world, with a broader range." Top Harvest has buyers in Central America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and West and Central Africa. There is a constant demand for Western European fresh produce in those countries.
Dutch and Belgian onions, apples, and pears are currently bestsellers, says Nicolas. "Yellow onions are selling very well. But the onion market's very competitive, and it's hard to make a profit. But there's an extensive demand both within and outside Europe. So, trading is fun. I'm optimistic about onions, now and in the future. There's plenty of overseas demand for Dutch and Belgian apples and pears too."
"The new Belgian bell pepper crop is also faring excellently in the market. Their prices have dropped considerably since the start of the season, but customers are willing to pay those prices. What's more, if there's more supply, as there is now, prices fall again fairly quickly," he says.
"We want to distinguish ourselves as a service provider. I think we can add value as a merchant by taking care of everything within our company, regardless of whether that's all the administration around transport or customs technicalities. We want to unburden our clients. Logistical administration and container issues can be a headache these days."
Here, the shipping companies' attitude bothers the trader a little. "You'd expect their service to increase along with the container prices. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case. Still, we have to deal with this; it's not our buyers' concern," says Nicolas.
This young company also does many partial loads. According to Nicolas, this is a specific market. "Our service side doesn't stop at unburdening customers. For example, if a supermarket asks to add 100kg of dates to a 20-ton load of apples, we'll do it. We adjust the supply to our clients' demand. If they need grapes, we send grapes; if they need apples, we look for the best ones. There's always something needed somewhere. So, we follow our buyers' calendars. We source the best product required at that time."
Tight labor market
It has been a challenging time for Top Harvest. "Logistics, of course, remains a concern. As far as container issues go, I think we'll soon be back in calmer waters. In road transport, however, I expect us to face a tight labor market and a shortage of drivers. That will have to be managed very well. Here, we offer added value because we do everything in-house. We can therefore react quickly and flexibly," continues Vandenbogaerde.
Looking ahead, he is, however, optimistic. "I think we've handled the challenging times well and even experienced nice growth. We're convinced that people consume healthier food when they get good products. That's where our responsibility lies - to get beautiful, healthy products to everyone."
Top Harvest's desire to expand its team reflects the company's good growth. "We want to be able to sustain the growth we're experiencing. We're a healthy company, but we're a little short-staffed. We want to build a good foundation for the future and provide the best service to our customers day in and day out. Then I think we'll have a very bright future," Nicolas concludes.