Miguel Gonzalez, MG Fruit: “Spaniards are often better at producing than commercializing”
13 december 2019
Was the step to The Netherlands and the fruit and vegetable trade a matter of course for you?
I met my Dutch wife abroad. Even though I never thought I would stay in The Netherlands, it soon felt good. I wanted to trade, although I had no immediate desire to enter the fruit and vegetable sector, but in the end I believe that everything has a reason in life. The business climate in The Netherlands appealed to me, I still think it is one of the most social, solidarity countries with excellent trading conditions. I came to Hagé through an acquaintance and I have been in the fresh produce sector for over 40 years now. With a lot of fun!
What did and should you get used to the most in The Netherlands?
I personally think that in The Netherlands there is sometimes a lot of talk with a lot of people before a decision can be made. Don’t get me wrong, I like to consult, but sometimes decisions have to be made and leadership has to be shown. I think that a leader in The Netherlands is sometimes seen as a kind of dictator. Watch out, if you have not consulted everyone or have one person rated higher than another. It was difficult to get used to that soft "leveling". I think I am too pragmatic for that.
How important was that time at Hagé to you?
In 1988 you started your own business. How were those early years?
We started with Hispa in portacabins in the warehouse. I look back on these years with great pleasure. All periods have their charms, but those early years were really fantastic and our turnover increased substantially during that period. During the first three years, Spain was by far our largest supply country, supplemented by Greece, Italy and France. At that time, the bulk of the Spanish products for the Northern European market came via The Netherlands. At the time, the main part (60%) of our package still consisted of vegetables and 40% of fruit, later these ratios turned around. Because the offer back then was then not as large as now, you could sell everything. Class I, Class II, actually you could get rid of everything. When Spain joined the EEC in 1989, you saw that more and more Dutch customers started to import from Spain themselves. Spanish trade became more and more accessible to the wholesaler and exporter around the corner. Then it was time for us to spread our wings further.
How did you do that?
In 1991 I traveled to South America and made contacts in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. For example, in 1992 we imported the first overseas products. South Africa and the Central American countries followed later. We were among the first importers of fruit overseas and that turned out to be the right choice. For example, we started in 1994 with grapes from Africa (Namibia) and around 1996 we imported the first melons from Central America (Honduras and Costa Rica). Costa Rica has become a very important country for us. For example, we have become the largest European melon importer and after the purchase of a 3,000 hectare pineapple farm, we also belong to the larger pineapple boys. We changed Hispa's slogan to "more than just Spain." We had become an all-round importer. But I remain a Spaniard and have always continued to import Spanish fruit and vegetables.
Do you expect Spain to always remain an important supplier country?
I certainly expect that. Products such as the citrus from Valencia, the soft fruit from Huelva and the greenhouse vegetables from Almeria still have a strong position on the market. Therefore, I don’t see those crops disappearing from Spain. When it comes to the soft fruit, many more products have appeared alongside the blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. They did a good job on that.. However, I generally find the Spaniards better at producing than commercializing. In my opinion, production is still much too fragmented. You still see so many emerging small businesses. But they do bring a lot of unrest on the market. Producing is one thing, but selling is another profession. In terms of sales, I think that many Spanish companies unfortunately do not always make the right choices.
Did the Spanish import cause friction with the Dutch supply?
At the moment we are again in the transition from the Dutch to the Spanish product in the greenhouse vegetables and that always ensures a classic collision. Especially at times like now when the Dutch season has not yet ended and Spain enters the market with large volumes. But that is a period that we will always have to go through. I always say it again: in our profession it is a question of supply and demand. That's what it's all about. At the moment there are fewer mandarins from Spain and Morocco and prices are sky high again. With a larger supply, the prices are lower again, we have to deal with that.
You sold your business to Staay. How do you look back on that?
I had no successor within the company and so I started looking at the continuity of the company. I saw Staay as a company that perfectly complemented the activities of Hispa. I only expected that we would bring those forces of the company to even more beautiful things and that in my role as ambassador I could be of greater value to the company. But I don't want to look back too much, I prefer to look ahead. We have now been on the road with MG Fruit for five years and we are on the right track.
With MG Fruit you chose a limited range. Is specialism the future?
In the past, many traders carried a total package, but now I believe more in a limited and targeted range in which customers know you. This is especially true in the free market. If you do a little bit of everything, customers ultimately don't know what to look for with you. The strength of the MG Fruit concept is specialism. That has proven itself in the past five years. But it does take courage to make those choices. We have chosen to be strong in watermelons and melons all year round as a core product, followed by pineapple, citrus and grapes, supplemented with Spanish products.
What trends do you see in the melon market?
Actually, the melon market is not so much subjected to trends. Of course, the seedless watermelons have taken off enormously, but otherwise the Galia, Cantaloupe and yellow melons have been taking the lead within the classic melons for the Northern European market. However, more and more melons have been consumed in recent years, but certainly more watermelons in winter. The changes are mainly in new varieties that look slightly more attractive, have a longer shelf life or are more profitable. However, chain cooperation has increased in this respect. In the past, you left the initiative with regard to the product to the producer and then you waited to see what came in. Today it is essential that you cooperate from producer to consumer, including with seed breeders, producers, logistics players and retailers.
You outsource the logistics to Kivits-Goes. What are the benefits of that?
The margins in the fruit and vegetable trade are no longer as large as they used to be. Previously, 'traders' could afford a large building, but in these times you have to pay close attention to your costs. Moreover, I think that specialized companies are even better able to provide you with the right logistics service. We are very happy with this collaboration. This allows us to focus on the work we are good at: importing and selling a limited range of fruit with fixed brands, with which our customers can identify.