Posted: 15th February 2017 | Written by: Karen Hockney
What marks out a provisioning company from the competition? If you have a passion for the finest ingredients and can present them in an original and delectable way, you are well on the way.
OnboardOnline first met the NeKo team at the 2014 MYBA Charter Show in Genoa and their colourful stand on Porto Antico’s Molo Vecchia stood out from the crowd as they served beautifully prepared sushi, sashimi, seafood and wagyu beef to a huge number of brokers, crew and industry professionals. Oysters dressed with crab and Beluga caviar, mini prawn cocktails and tuna sashimi with freshly grated wasabi were just a few of the highlights.
Three years on, NeKo is growing at an impressive rate and General Manager Joost Van Gorsel says the company’s decision to expand from their original ship chandler business into provisioning 12 years ago was one of the canniest business moves they could have made.
‘Our main business was supplying tankers as a general ship chandler but when the economic crisis struck, our CEO John Blom observed that we had to focus on more than one market instead of betting on just one horse,’ explains Joost.
‘We looked for a market to suit our business. After exploring river cruises, ocean cruises and mega yachts, the market that seemed the most lucrative and promising and would run effectively alongside our current business, was yachting.
Joost and his team took a gamble on changing the NeKo business model, ceasing to charge transportation costs at a time when other companies factored shipping charges into their overall costs.
‘In the early days when a boat needed a delivery into France, we would charge them delivery costs but we soon realised that if NeKo wanted a future in the megayacht business, we had to get more volume in the company and no longer charge transport costs,’ adds Joost, who joined the company when he was still in his teens.
‘It cost us a lot more money in the early days because we had only a few boats that were operating in the Mediterranean, but we wanted to be competitive with the companies which were offering the same service in France. If you want to be a key player, you have to be at the same level as your competitors, so we offered free delivery in the Med and started competing with the local players by supplying International products.’
It was a gamble that paid off handsomely. NeKo started supplying super yachts of 50m plus, gradually building up a great portfolio of regular super yacht clients. Based in Rotterdam, Antibes, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Antigua & St. Maarten, NeKo’s mantra is “one supplier for all your needs”, and they pride themselves on delivering deck and engine supplies, crew uniforms, fitness and medical equipment as well as fine food and wine usually less than 12 hours from an order being placed. NeKo really is “the one stop shop”.
‘A few years ago, we would go to a boat with just two pallets but as we have been able to get spare parts for a good price, that helped us to create volume,’ adds Joost.
‘Manufacturers were offering us better discounts than our competitors due to these higher volumes and we could offer free shipping of technical items by piggy backing on the chef’s provisioning.
‘The NeKo philosophy is about building long term relationships through competitive pricing while offering the best service. Our prices have hardly risen in the last five years. Every week we send out big shipments of provisioning and technical items to yachts in Monaco, Naples, Sardinia and Barcelona all free of shipping charges, saving them huge transport costs annually.’
Joost compares his job to that of a top sportsman. ‘Every day you need to be pin sharp and get an A plus. We have high standards and expect the same from our suppliers. Anyone can supply technical items to yachts - these days, yachts are well organised and send the type and serial number of exactly what they need - but provisioning is a different game. Packing and labelling correctly, putting stuff in the right truck, not placing soft items under heavy items, there’s a lot to think about.’
NeKo’s suppliers are among the best in the world, boasting numerous three star Michelin restaurants on their client database. ‘The yacht business will always request high quality ingredients for guests and good quality at a good price for crew so we make profiles of every yacht on what they want and when the order arrives in the warehouse, we carry out an extra quality control.
‘We get invited by the leading chefs in Holland to try their dishes and our suppliers keep us abreast of new produce and trends. We keep ourselves and our clients well informed of what is happening, which takes a lot of energy. You have to be a perfectionist because quality is our priority.’
Occasionally, difficult requests come in but Joost and the team do whatever they can to facilitate even the trickiest demands. ‘Sometimes an owner might ask for cherries in October. An inexperienced crew won’t tell the owner that cherries are out of season so the only thing we can do is fly them in from Canada, which is very expensive. Besides that, they don’t even taste like the cherries in season!
‘An owner from Kazakhstan may want local lamb, but there is a ban on importing certain foodstuffs from certain countries so the owner might use their private jet to bring those items in. Some owners will fly in their own caviar or ingredients from their hometown if they are not available or are much more expensive in Europe.
‘When we started out, we ran from 8am – 5pm, but now we operate 24 hours a day. If a chef calls me in the middle of the night from the Maldives and he needs help, we will help. I answer the call straight away and will do everything to find a solution.’
In an industry not known for its green credentials, the NeKo team is driven by environmentally friendly values, reusing and recycling Styrofoam boxes used for food storage, using eco friendly cleaning products and even driving eco friendly cars!
‘We are a young team and a young company and I feel it is very important to take care of the environment,’ says Joost. ‘The yachting business is not known for being environmentally friendly so we do whatever we can. We try to avoid using Styrofoam boxes but if we have no choice, our delivery driver waits until they are emptied and takes them back to our facility where we clean them and send them back to the manufacturer.
‘We also started a crate exchange programme whereby we purchase 100 crates, keep 50 and give 50 to the boat. When we supply 50 full crates, the crew gives us the 50 empty ones back. It saves on packaging costs and while they might still be plastic, you can at least use them for a couple of seasons. Besides, it speeds up the deliveries because the crates don’t have to be unpacked right away. This will also have a positive effect on the quality of our products, as the crates will spend less time on the quay’.
When it comes to identifying the latest trends in dining and ingredients, Joost asserts that the restaurant industry is way ahead, with yacht chefs following their lead a few months later.
‘In the future, I believe people will become more aware of what they eat and choose more authentic products which are really good, rather than average,’ he says. ‘Chefs are already choosing grass fed beef over grain fed beef. Organic products are becoming more popular and people are concerned that the animal has been treated well and had a good life. We cannot supply boats if they are looking for the cheapest meat on the market. NeKo won’t deliver low quality as that reflects on our reputation, our produce is always high quality and eco friendly.’
With a full-time team of around 22, plus a variable number of delivery drivers according to season and demand, NeKo shares facilities with other companies to keep costs down and maintain their competitive edge.
Their goals for 2017 include expanding the concept of one supplier for all needs, encouraging more yachts to come to NeKo for everything. ‘We are also branching into the chalet and villa market’, reveals Joost. ‘It’s easier to reach yachts as they are at the ports, whereas it’s much harder to reach villas but we are working on that.’
With a distinctly family feel to the business, NeKo is committed to hiring candidates who are enthusiastic and willing to learn on the job. ‘Our team consists of predominantly young people aged between 20 and 30, and often it’s their first or second job,’ explains Joost. ‘We don’t ask for any requirements or qualifications other than motivation and incentive to get the job done. If you have those qualities, you can have the dream career at NeKo. It’s very much a team effort, there are no office politics and we encourage everyone to go the extra mile.’