The Netherlands is Europe's largest onion exporter. 90% of its onion crop is exported and most of Europe's onion imports are Dutch. In order to meet year round demand, Waterman also imports onions from New Zealand, Chile, Egypt and South Africa.
We met Wim from 'Waterman' in early February 2018 at the Berlin Fruit Logistica, the world's largest fresh produce trade fair and discussed the growing and marketing of onions and the ties between Waterman and Hazera.
Wim and his brother Erik founded the Company. Their twenty years' experience in the global onion market has taught them that the key to success is logistics, together with quality, competitive pricing and a long shelf life, to ensure quality for the end user after extended shipping times.
According to Wim, the port of Rotterdam is an important factor in the distribution chain. This starts with the farmer, continues through the packing station and from there to the port, from where they export to approximately seventy countries by sea. Produce is also trucked overland to some European markets.
Another key factor in the logistics chain is in-transit temperature control, which is remotely controlled from Head Office according to customer requirements. Some customers request that the onions arrive at specified temperatures for either cold storage or immediate use. Onions are a hardy crop and temperatures can be raised gradually according to customer requirements.
Hazera is the leading seed supplier to onion growers in the Netherlands. Waterman BV buys Dutch farmers' onion crops grown from Hazera seeds, because their extended shelf life is perfect for shipping long distances to global markets.
Given his vast experience, farmers often consult Wim about the most suitable onion seeds to plant. He almost invariably recommends Hazera seeds because of their extremely high quality and, for the factor that benefits him as a shipper, their long shelf life.
It is not only the growers who consult him; importers rely heavily on Wim's experience, too. He advises them about variety, taste and colour. He learns about their needs and the markets with which they work, and then recommends the best onion for them.
Market demands — Restaurants versus private consumers
According to Wim, there are two customer types that most affect onion demand. They are restaurants and private consumers.
Restaurateurs generally prefer larger onions to reduce peeling and slicing costs, whereas private consumers prefer smaller onions, which are bought by weight; pricing is also a factor.In order to understand the dynamics of the onion market, it must be understood that onions are a basic commodity unaffected by economic crises. In hard times, the demand for small onions grows, especially in developing countries where there is a demand for small onions, which weigh less and therefore cost less.
'We maintain close ties with Hazera. Our discussions focus on how to adapt onions to future market requirements. Hazera, a forward looking company, invests a great deal in R&D and incorporates many of the features we discuss into its breeding programme. Strong relationships along the entire chain are what make both Hazera and Waterman competitive players in the onion world.'