Peeling the Onion – Creative and Innovative Solutions
The dynamic region of the Benelux covering Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg plays a key role as Europe’s bustling transport hub. The three neighboring states share a common geographical force tending to enormous production and local exports. The Netherlands may be small in size, but when taking into account its moderate climate and vast flatlands, you get the second biggest agricultural exporter in the world, just behind the United States.
We spoke to Tim van Raaij, Sales Manager of ZIM Benelux, who gave an ambitious perspective on how increasing reefer export demands deal with recent supply chain reality.
As an export giant, The Netherlands transports its goods far and wide. Among the famous tulips and flower bulbs sent to Japan and the United States, the biggest volume in exports consists of numerous agricultural products such as fresh carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and onions, all being exported by reefers to the East Med, as well as to Israel. The Netherlands is also a big reefer exporter of commodities like dairy, fish, meat, chocolate, ice-cream, and pharmaceuticals. ZIM as a carrier has seen tremendous growth within the global reefer market, currently holding a market share of 40% for reefer exports from the Netherlands to Israel.
The onion export season in the Netherlands generally runs from the end of September up to the beginning of April. This September, Israel marked the start of Shmita, an agricultural sabbatical occurring every seventh Jewish year. For exports to Israel, this change in demand exceeded expectations as a major boost was seen in onion volumes, clearly benefitting the reefer market in the region, which have grown significantly in quantity.
Looking ahead to 2022, the onion season is expected to last even longer. The average season tends to go on for seven months, but now with the Shmita taking place, suppliers will be able to seize the opportunity offered by the longer season, extending to July!
This massive demand is projected to double when compared with an average year. But what happens when supply chain delays come into play?
“Special occasions call for special solutions”
The recent port congestion is among the most complex trade barriers for both exports and imports within the supply chain. Major ports like Antwerp and Rotterdam are still struggling with a pileup of cargo stuck for days, sometimes even weeks, causing shipping disruptions and delays.
In our world, circumstances like this bring creative solutions. Tim adds: “We realized that if only we supply our customers with equipment ‘close to home’ it will help them greatly in saving waiting time when picking up containers inside the overflowing ports.” These inland depots are located at a close range to the suppliers’ premises, where packing and stuffing takes place. We were not only successful in saving our customers additional costs, but our flexibility, and strategic working plan ultimately allowed them to spare a trip as well, shortening the supply chain all around!
So how do depots work exactly?
Since the ports and inland depots are congested, the team made sure that once the reefer container is discharged, it is directly transported on barge to its specified depot. This not only reduces the waiting time, but also eliminates the trucking to one leg only: “We were able to open up dedicated depots within 15 kilometers from the origin of the cargo, massively shortening the distance which had previously been 65 kilometers.”
This initiative, created in close collaboration by the ZIM Netherlands Sales and Logistics team, was perfectly executed in Vlissingen Port. The effort to side-step shipping delays by reducing truck transport even brought forth an additional and equally important value of environmental awareness. Finding ways to fight the climate crisis remains high on the agenda around the Benelux, and similarly corresponds to ZIM’s core values, as we always seek long lasting sustainable approaches in all we do.
En route to...
Take a highly skilled reefer sales team, add an expert logistics unit, and get a winning strategy: “Being around this trade for so long, the sales team here in Benelux are fully aware of the Israeli trade. Their broad experience spanning over the East Med trade is impressive – they know exactly how to assist local customers’ needs and any questions they might have along the way.”
As the Benelux gears up for yet another successful season of global exports, initial steps are taken to go beyond our customers’ expectations because for ZIM, they stand at the heart of our operation. As Tim expressed, “When talking to our customers, we dedicate the time to discuss – what are your needs this season? Where can we at ZIM come in to assist in your supply chain? This is always the start of each conversation for us.”
Between market projections, customer expectations, and ZIM’s commitment, both teams were able to take their customers on the journey to satisfaction, with little to no detours: “We take the edge here, because more than others, we’re always willing to listen to our customers. Even when it comes to internal logistics, we always go by a can-do approach for our clients, consistently improving to accomplish tailor-made, creative solutions.”