Bart van der Vliet OTC

Bart van der Vliet

Dutch fresh produce importer-distributer OTC Organics endured a challenging year in 2019, but it was also a 12-month period that the group has described as “inspiring”, as it worked hard to ensure sales volume growth in specialised categories.

To help facilitate further expansion, OTC took on new staff and invested in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that went live at the start of last year.

“Overall market conditions throughout 2019 were a challenge,” explains Bart van der Vliet, sales and marketing manager at OTC Organics. “As an expert in overseas fruit and vegetables, OTC Organics is one of the first to be confronted with the consequences of global climate change, and this influences supply volumes and the quality of organic produce in a market that is seeing increasing demand.”

Leading retailers, in their effort to cut costs, are increasingly trying to buy direct from the grower, although many retailers are learning that buying organic fresh produce requires specific working methods to be successful.

“Despite these challenges, OTC Organics managed to grow its sales volume in specialised product categories such as organic grapes and organic citrus,” he continues. “This growth in sales volume is due not only to our own efforts but also because of good daily cooperation with our partners in our ever-increasing network of professional organic growers.”

Plastic progress

With the reduction of plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables perhaps the most-discussed topic in the industry, OTC has been considering ways it can contribute to improving the packaging situation for organic produce.

“This will remain a point of contention in the coming years all the time it is not clear in which direction the discussion around sustainable packaging will go,” says van der Vliet. “One thing is for sure, and that is that European consumers are getting more conscious about the products they buy and how sustainable the applied packaging is.”

In a bid to meet the growing demand of its end customers, OTC recently organised a packaging seminar with all its stakeholders to exchange views and opinions, taking place at its office in Dronten.

According to van der Vliet, the conclusion from the event was that retailers, distributors, packers, consumers and OTC Organics itself wanted nothing more than for all plastic packaging to disappear from the shelves.

“Many products can be easily traded without packaging, for other products this is more complicated,” he notes. “One of the results of the seminar was the introduction of a carton for table grape packing. We all know the image of grapes in a plastic clamshell, which has been developed to protect the product and make transportation safer and easier, but despite the fact that this plastic bowl is the industry standard and the cheapest packaging alternative, we felt we had to change this.”

Together with its packing partners, OTC has developed packaging alternatives that can be easily recycled after use, consisting of paper – what it sees as a modern step towards a plastic-free shelf. “How does this work and what does it look like? We are happy to show you and talk about it at our stand at Fruit Logistica in Berlin,” van der Vliet adds.