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Director Jan Vliet van Zante and major shareholder Marcel van Kempen:

“Unica shares our philosophy”

Van Kempen Koudetechniek was acquired by Unica in December 2020. That meant that the Unica Industry Solutions cluster gained 75 years of experience in industrial refrigeration technology overnight. Van Kempen Koudetechniek works for large distribution centres and major companies in the potatoes, fruit and vegetables, floristry and food sectors throughout the Netherlands.

Van Kempen Koudetechniek wasn’t actively looking to be acquired when Unica came knocking on the door in 2019.

Philosophy

“We knew that we would have to make a decision at some point, but we only wanted to join forces with a company that shares our philosophy. Preferably a technical company that understood how we worked and wanted to help us grow responsibly,” says Marcel van Kempen, who stepped down as director in 2008 and has since represented the family as major shareholder. “When we first came across Unica, it felt right straight away.”

What we noticed immediately was the human side of Unica

Jan Vliet van Zante has been working at the company since 1983 and succeeded Marcel as director in 2009. “The first discussions with Unica were pleasant and relaxed. What we noticed immediately was the human side of Unica. We both still have the culture of a family business. Unica understands how important it is to us to maintain our own identity. What also appeals to me is the fact that you can do things together. But you don’t have to. The funny thing is that this makes you more likely to seek each other out.”

Desire to innovate

After the initial introduction, we turned out to have a lot more in common. Unica and Van Kempen Koudetechniek are technical companies: they started small and grew to become national players with an excellent reputation. They are also companies that are proud of their past and at the same time see a future full of innovation. “My father started making chest freezers in 1947. That was very pioneering at the time,” says Marcel. “The Americans had discovered that you could store fruit for much longer periods if it was refrigerated. When this novelty came over to the Netherlands, my father decided to get involved in this niche market. He didn’t buy anything, but made everything himself. First refrigeration units for local auctions and then refrigeration installations for vegetables. And when a new technology came to the market in the 1980s, our company began to produce that in-house too.”

Cross-pollination

According to Jan, in-house development and production are still a strong asset today. “Van Kempen has become a brand name and we are very proud of that,” he says. “In terms of development, a lot has changed of course, such as the shift from technical installations – refrigeration technology remains essentially unchanged – towards automation and ICT. We now primarily develop modular control systems, through which we operate more and more installations remotely. In the future we expect to see a lot of predictive maintenance, in which you provide the customer with a total solution through a service and maintenance contract.”

Jan also sees a future within energy-saving technology and the connection with sustainable energy generation, such as using solar panels or a heat pump. “There are a lot of opportunities for cross-pollination there. Unica has a lot of ‘warm’ customers with a demand for refrigeration and we have a lot of ‘cold’ customers with a demand for heat.”

Good relationships

Strong problem-solving skills are another element of Van Kempen’s DNA. “We believe in public-private partnerships for example, like the one we have entered into with Wageningen University & Research,” says Jan. “Solving problems together in order to achieve progress within the sector as a whole. That’s very satisfying, as is maintaining long-term relationships with customers. An installation can sometimes last 50 years. That means you want to keep the relationship going for the same amount of time. You have to trust each other and be willing to work together to find solutions.”

That’s not always easy, since contracts are getting bigger and more complex all the time, and they often have to be delivered under significant time pressure. Marcel remains pragmatic: “My parents never talked about technology, they talked about solving a customer’s problem. And that’s what we still do today. We immerse ourselves in the customer’s world and look at what they need.”

Proud entrepreneurs

But if that all works, you achieve success. It’s difficult for Marcel and Jan to choose the project they are most proud of. “Remember when we completed the biggest ice bank in Europe with 300 tonnes of ice storage in 1986? The 20,000 square metre refrigeration unit for the flower auction in Aalsmeer was another great project. Or the BREEAM certification for Nature’s Pride. It always makes me happy when I see the ‘ready to eat’ sticker on fruit that we have cooled and ripened.”

“Nature’s Pride is high on my list too,” says Jan. “They’re a customer we have been working with for many years and for whom we completed a third expansion covering 16,000 square metres in a very short space of time. I’m also proud of the refrigeration for ten Lidl distribution centres. These supermarkets won the prize for ‘best supplier of fruit and vegetables’ for years in a row. Thanks to Van Kempen.”