OTC grapes

Unsurprisingly, 2020 has so far proved a challenging year for Dutch organic specialist OTC Organics. Arriving in the first quarter of the year, the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact, says sales and marketing manager Bart van der Vliet, not just on business, but also on the private lives of staff, customers and suppliers.

“Naturally we took the responsible steps and have been doing everything within our power to supply our customers with the best organic fruit and vegetables at this time,” he goes on. “It has been a real challenge, especially during the lockdowns, not just at OTC but at important overseas suppliers, affecting product availability and logistics. In some South American countries, the army stepped in to address the crisis by sending people home, which resulted in unexpected closures of packhouses. In South Africa, we had to deal with a shortage of available containers and irregular departures of ships.”

The main impact to the business, he says, has been in delays and irregular arrivals of organic fruit and vegetables, demanding extra communication between all parties in the supply chain. “As during the early days of the pandemic, we remain in daily contact with our growers and suppliers in order to remain up to speed on developments at the farms,” says van der Vliet, “as the virus flares up in various regions.”

According to van der Vliet, the company has been helped during the crisis by the variety of its customers. “Volumes have fallen to some clients hit hard by the lockdown, such as those in the foodservice business,” he says, “but we have still been able to sell all our incoming fruit and vegetables to our customers.”

Demand for regional organic fruit and vegetables has also increased in recent months, he reveals. “Part of this increase can be linked to Covid-19,” says van der Vliet. “At the height of the crisis people became very conscious of their health and started visiting local greengrocers instead of crowded retailers with empty shelves due to hoarding.”

During the first few months of 2020, OTC Organics saw a steep increase in sales of packed produce to its retail customers. However, according to van der Vliet, such a trend thankfully appears to be short-lived.

“Plastic packaging suddenly wasn’t such a big issue for consumers worried about Covid-19,” he says. “But this return to plastic didn’t last very long and organic fruit and vegetables packed in paper or cardboard are back on the shelves in Europe. We and our customers are committed to pushing further for sustainable packaging solutions to decrease carbon footprint and further reduce plastic packaging. Although our growers, customers and members of staff have had a challenging 2020 so far, we have managed to make the best of it and look confidently toward the remainder of the year.”