Anyone who's driven alongside the Plukmadese Polder, north of the A59, in the Netherlands recently has seen BerryWorld's new distribution center going up. The 16,000m2 building's completion is planned for the end of July. From September, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries will be packaged here. "This new building has come at the right time," says BerryWorld Director, Wil Beekers.
"Two-and-a-half years ago, a capacity shortage made us decide on a new building already. The start of construction was, unfortunately, delayed. That was due to a permit delay. That means that that last year we had to store our soft fruit in no less than three locations. This new building means we'll have all our goods under one roof again. That's better - you get a better overview, and it's more efficient."
"When the new building is ready this summer, we'll immediately install two lines. We hope to have these operational within two weeks. In the meantime, we'll still continue at our present location. We think we'll need at least a month to get all the packaging lines up and running at the new site. Moving during the season is certainly not ideal. But the time that we have no supply in the year is long gone," says Wil.
The construction approach was to generate a good product flow. That's thanks to smart routing. The product is, therefore, processed under ideal conditions. "The entire building, except the cask room, is air-conditioned. The fruit arrives at the perfect temperature. Quality controls can be done at any time. The cooled fruit then goes to the packing station's preparation areas. Hermetically sealable step-in dock shelters keep the cold inside at all times."
"Naturally, we wanted to make the new building as sustainable as possible. We, therefore, chose to construct it according to BREEAM Outstanding norms. Perhaps the most appealing aspect is that the building is gasless. The electricity needed is produced by roof solar panels. This is a crucial element, given the building's function," explains Beekers.
"It's about cooling versus the summer sun. After all, we need a lot of cooling in the summer. But, there's a lot of sunshine then too. So, there's ample electricity being generated. We can, therefore, optimally meet the cooling demand. The cooling system's residual heat is used to heat areas. This means the building can run without gas."
Most of the building's office space is situated above the loading docks. BerryWorld currently employs about 25 office workers. They have 15 permanent employees in their packaging station. A flexible network surrounds them. At the height of the season, this network can consist of 200 people. Wil expects soft fruit always to remain BerryWorld's core business.
"We set this DC up purely for soft fruit. With it, we're anticipating our European clients' growth. In addition to cultivation, our function will increasingly be to facilitate the volume stream. Here, we'll do long-term production planning with our clients. We'll also agree on forecasting marketing plans," says Wil.
"We have a broad client base. There is about a 30/70 wholesale and food service/retail relationship. Earlier this year, the sales to our food service clients fell away. That was due to the coronavirus outbreak. But, luckily, retailers made up well for that loss of revenue. After two or three weeks, the market found a new balance."
"We noticed that, besides oranges, consumers were buying, especially strawberries. That was because of this fruit's vitamin content. I hope we can maintain that demand in the summer. I am, however, bearing in mind that if this outbreak's economic consequences really hit, we'll have to pull out all the stops to keep soft fruit on people's daily shopping lists," continues Beekers.
BerryWorld's fruit volume consists not only of its own production supply. It's also made up of the streams from Dutch growers. These farmers are 100% committed to BerryWorld. This Dutch company also distributes import fruit year-round. "Our main products are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. We've also had some specialties in our assortment for years now."
"These include pineapple-strawberries, raspberry-strawberries, and bubbleberries. But these remain niche-products. The food service sector takes 90% of these specialties. So, sales been particularly difficult in recent months. Fortunately, a few retail clients have taken these products. That's guaranteed sales," says Wil.
The company's entire Dutch soft fruit acreage is about 250 hectares. "Outdoor farming is being gradually phased out. It's being replaced by elevated cultivation and tunnels. Greenhouse farming is slowly growing every year too. But, here, I think the biggest expansion is already over. Its overseas limited has been reached as well. Cultivation techniques have been improved in especially Germany, Scandinavia, and the UK. These sales markets, therefore, have locally grown products earlier and earlier. That means there are fewer sales opportunities in that direction from June onward."
Plastic reduction remains a high priority for BerryWorld's clients. "We have made great strides in this. We consider well what the clients want. Even though seemingly easy to implement changes in the packaging process are sometimes far more of a headache than was anticipated. Think of using recycled materials, for example. You're often surprised. That doesn't change the fact that we always take on the challenge. We want to find the best solutions. Automation had always been central to the realization of the new building. That will certainly remain so in future too," concludes Will.