Jaguar CEO Kees Rijnhout states his case The down-to-earth triumph of FOTG as a management style
Perishable Pundit by Jim Prevor, March 20, 2022
At this year’s edition of the London Produce Show and Conference, we will have the honor of welcoming Kees Rijnhout, CEO of Jaguar, a global fresh produce group which manages the supply and sale of fresh produce in global scale.
Kees Rijnhout has been very actively involved as an entrepreneur in the food industry since 1980. He is the owner of Jaguar The Fresh Company and is also a supporting investor in various trading and production companies. As a support investor, he intensively contributes to the (re)development of companies and focuses on creating synergies in different areas.
In 2006, Kees Rijnhout bought a small Dutch family business specializing in the trading of fresh produce. Since then, he has grown Jaguar The Fresh Company into a global fresh produce specialist with offices on four continents. He also developed Jaguar New Energies, a South African specialist in providing solar energy solutions to arborists. At the London Produce Show, Kees will explain how his teams have managed to stay at the forefront of business developments, with a focus on sustainability.
We asked Steven Loeb, editor of Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS Magazine, to talk to Kees about the technology the company uses for fruit sourcing, how the pandemic has affected its sustainable development and how he was able to take his small family business and take it global.
Jaguar The Fresh Company
Q: What type of technology are you deploying in your fruit supply? How do you ensure you get the healthiest and most sustainable products?
A: We call it FOTG: Down to earth! Jaguar has a strong team of fresh produce specialists who operate in all the countries from which we source fruit. Our technical teams ensure that each shipment is checked and rechecked. While we would like to say that our quality successes are built on technology, nothing could be further from the truth. The skills of our employees make all the difference!
Q: Talk about how Covid-19 has affected sustainability. Has this put more pressure on companies like yours to pursue environmental sustainability and ethical trade?
A: It sounds a bit preachy, but when Covid arrived, we continued to do what we have always done: source and deliver excellent quality from professional grower partners, using a least cost logistics system. We have focused even more on the decades-long reliability of the Jaguar brand. But in terms of sustainability, we just “did our thing”, as always. This includes projects around social sustainability, supporting growers with solar energy solutions, and participating in projects around soil health and water security.
Q: What has been the new strategy put in place by Jaguar due to the pandemic? How is it different from what you were doing before?
A: On the one hand, Covid has caused us to rethink workplace productivity. As many other companies have learned, we also understood that the right people would rise to the challenge. Throughout the pandemic, we have never had more than 30% of our staff present in the office. The rest were working from home and we saw no drop in productivity. We’re blessed with a really great and loyal workforce, so we didn’t have to change course – we just had to allow our people to fly.
Q: How does Jaguar New Energies fit into your overall sustainability initiative?
A: We believe that South African producers will face more and more electricity challenges. Imagine having a full crop ready to pack and the electricity goes out? Most growers have backup generators, but these run mostly on “dirty” diesel. With JNE, our objective is threefold: to provide producers with a sustainable solution to their energy problems; ensure that no fruit is lost due to unavailability of electricity; and finally, to contribute to the environment by reducing emissions.
Q: I’m interested in your plan to develop your social sustainability. How will you ensure that the producers, local authorities, supply chain partners and non-profit organizations you work with all benefit?
A: The first thing we did in 2022 was to put in place a strategic action plan. With the impending EU Governance and Compliance Directive, it is clear that every company needs to have a firm grip on its sustainability progress. This action plan forms the backbone for the future, and we will work based on a list of priorities to engage with specific stakeholders as we go deeper into our action plan. In South Africa, we call it ‘consultative dialogue’ – it’s a slow but very productive process!
Q: How did you turn a small Dutch family business into a global company? Why can’t others achieve the same and what would you say to an ambitious youngster on how to start a business these days?
A: At the heart of our business, we have always emphasized building a “family”. Our employees in overseas countries are not micro-managed, but have the freedom to create and move. Of course, other companies may disagree and say that strong discipline and management are needed to “control” people and protect your investment. I tend to disagree. My advice to young people? Identify your dream, surround yourself with other young people who dare to challenge you, then work with passion!
Q: What would you like to emphasize in your speech at the upcoming London show? What’s the key takeaway?
A: Just that the fresh produce world is still a great world to work in. My personal objective for the coming year is to attract new young talents and give them wings. And to retain my extremely loyal employees and support them in passing on their skills. With this I want to increase the position of the “powerhouse” in the world. As Jim Prevor often says: we are on the side of the angels!
Somewhere I have an old photo. The Prevor family business was in the old Washington Street market in Manhattan and there were little more than a few people and a few telephones. The photo shows a small sign identifying the family business but overshadowed by a larger sign identifying a company, General Produce, which owns the building. My dad wasn’t a particularly sentimental guy, but he liked this picture because over time we bought General Produce and, as my dad taught me, it was a reminder that with intelligence and devotion, the minnow can sometimes swallow the whale.
Come listen to this inspiring story of how great things can happen with the right effort, attitude, and ability. Maybe if you listen hard enough, great things can happen to you!
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