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Tom Vande Capelle and Gabriel Ghita, Fresh Food:

"It's not limited supply, but refusal to pay higher prices that's causing empty shelves"

Fresh Food has been busy recently. The Belgian company focuses largely on the English market and has grown substantially since Brexit. So when that country's shelves recently emptied, the importer/ exporter had plenty of work. "The empty shelves had nothing to do with shortages, just price. There was produce, but it was slightly more expensive. Retail didn't want to pay, but we did, so our warehouses were full," begins Tom Vande Capelle.

The company, which has been around for over 20 years, welcomed experienced traders Tom Vande Capelle and Gabriel Ghita two years ago. They previously ran Alegriafruit for some time but, after discussions with Fresh Food's then management, decided to take the plunge. "At the time, they wanted younger, ambitious people to expand the business. They had the resources, and we had the will to make it happen," Gabriel explains.

The company has, thus, been boosted significantly in the past three years. To top it off, they moved to their new location last September. "We had limited space at the old place. We had to load goods before we could unload the trucks. Here we have much more room. Plus, we're right in the epicenter of trade, near the auction (read: REO). It was initially an intermediate step, but I we've found our true space."

The company wants to use this route to increasingly strengthen in position. In the winter, Fresh Food focuses mainly on imports from Southern Europe and Morocco. They then export those products to, particularly, the United Kingdom, but also Italy, Spain, and France.

Some go to its Belgian customers. In the summer, the focus is on Belgian fruits and vegetables, which it markets partly under its brand "The Taste of Belgium's Finest. "Those winter imports, in addition to local produce, are important to keep your clients. You can supply them year-round," the men say.

Empty shelves a matter of price
The company that is especially strong in tomatoes has had a hectic time. "Tomatoes are still top-sellers, but recently, of course, many market players have had considerable issues with the shortage of several products, including tomatoes. That pushes those products' prices up considerably. We, however, never had shortages."

According to these traders, the empty shelves in, for example, the UK are not due to product availability. "Growers often have fixed price contracts with supermarkets and suppliers. Now, suppose those contract prices are one euro - which you can hardly live on - and market prices are a euro higher; then the choice is quickly made for growers. Then it's 'cold and a tricky product to deliver," but when the shelves in the UK were empty, our warehouses were full. It was simply a price issue. If they wanted to pay, they had product," they explain.

Gabriel and Tom say things are a little calmer. "Local supply is increasingly returning to the market, so prices are slowly falling. We're switching to Belgian tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant, among others, but we offer the full range of fruits and vegetables. There will still be plenty of Spanish and Moroccan products, but the transition to Dutch and Belgian greenhouse produce has begun. So we're moving to day trading."

Once the sizeable local vegetable volumes hit the market, Gabriel does not expect a slight oversupply; on the contrary. "Everything's coming together on the market now, but it will, obviously, do its job again. If the weather cooperates a bit, you sell everything almost automatically, and volumes dip toward summer anyway. People are eager for Belgian and Dutch strawberries and tomatoes," the two men know.

France - a market with plenty of potential
Looking ahead, the men are adamant: "England and France are our most important markets. We've already gained a nice foothold in England. Since the Brexit story, the problems have been piling up there, which plays into our hands. It's increasingly difficult to get produce there. There's a lot involved with transportation and customs documentation."

"It's a whole different way of working. However, preparation was the most important thing during the transition. It took a lot of getting used to," Tom and Gabriel admit, "and especially on the UK side, they didn't always have everything in order. But now, we're specialists. We can get our products across the Channel very quickly."

Besides markets like Italy and Spain, Fresh Food is increasingly focused on France. "It's potentially a very interesting market for us. We're already active there, but only to a limited extent. We want to expand and professionalize there. We want to take that step, and then there's still a world to be won for us," the men conclude.

For more information:
Tom Vande Capelle and Gabriel Ghita
Fresh Food
325 Diksmuidsesteenweg
8800, Roeselare, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 513 37 700

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