Weekly Local Biography

  Rudy Van den Berg

By: Elle Faraday

The famous motivational author Ben Sweetland once wrote, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” Rudy Van den Berg knows all about successful journeys. He is the managing director of Horeca, a food and non-food distributor, which has gained great importance in Chiang Mai over the last six years.
Rudy was born and educated in Holland and at the age of 18 went into business with his brother. They set up their own company in Paris exporting flowers. Not long after they became established, they opened a second branch of the business in the south of France. They supplied their flowers to the giant French supermarket, Carrefour, and after 17 years were bought out by a leading fruit and veg company who were looking for a way to break into the Carrefour market. He agreed to stay with the company for two years, helping them to get on their feet and signed a three year agreement not to set up a similar business – he would have been far too much competition!
Rudy and his brother were at a complete loss as what to do, so they did what any sensible person would do and packed up shop and took their families to Thailand. The original intention was to pass the three year ban while they were unable to trade in France, but 12 years later, Rudy and his family are still living in Chiang Mai!
Initially, the family travelled and enjoyed the fruits of his labours but after two years of travel, Rudy got itchy feet and decided to look for possible business ventures in the city. He began by investing in a computer school, the first of its kind in Chiang Mai. It was over 10 years ago, when few people travelled and few had computers of their own. He then entered the property market before really finding his niche in the food business.
Together with four business partners, he set up a food production company for good quality ‘farang food’ such as pate and sausages. One of their biggest customers was Siam Food Services, the largest food importer in Thailand. Siam Foods were very impressed with Rudy and offered him the chance to set up on his own to become their sole distributor, so in the year 2000, Horeca was launched.
Rudy along with his business partner Patinya Srisuk was determined to establish a professional business with highly trained staff dedicated to the highest quality service. Rudy was confident that Chiang Mai was a city on the up and he wanted to be a part of that development.
“I have firm rules for my staff,” Rudy told me. “No one is allowed to say no, I don’t know or we don’t have it. If we didn’t have it in stock, I wanted my staff to tell the customers where they could get it.” This approach was revolutionary for Chiang Mai and slowly he built up his business based on the straight forward professionalism and a customer first philosophy.
Six years later, Rudy and his company Horeca stock over 10 thousand products and are the exclusive distributors throughout northern Thailand including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Lampang, of many major brands such as Nestle dairy, Lucky Brand products and Dilmah Tea.
One of the ways in which Horeca is breaking new ground is in offering training sessions to its customers. Rudy sees training as an exciting part of the company’s future and it is a service he is keen to expand. He wants to help the smaller establishments compete with the larger ones. He believes that the increasing number of tourists to Chiang Mai will demand better service. People visiting the city are willing to pay more for food and drink but demand higher standards and value for money. Chiang Mai has moved on from a backpacker’s haven and is now a mainstream destination in its own right.
As part of his contribution to developing the city, Rudy is working with students at Payap University. He believes one of the keys to development and advancement is ‘sharing with the community’. Whether it’s teaching staff how to serve wine, how to serve tea and coffee or simply to smile and say hello, customers prefer better service and are more likely to return for more business. This is how Horeca is run and that is the key reason it has grown over the last 6 years.
Rudy is currently in the process of buying land where he hopes to develop a training centre. This will allow businesses and individuals to take advantage of a high quality teaching and demonstration facility. He is hoping the centre will include a library containing cookbooks, training manuals and other reference works to educate people on service and good management. In addition to all these initiatives, Rudy is also turning his irrepressible enthusiasm to the conservation of the environment and the preservation of the Lanna heritage. He feels that not enough is done to preserve the old Lanna style buildings in Chiang Mai which he believes improves the look of the city and ensures that the history is never forgotten. Chiang Mai is an historic city and Rudy firmly believes that the past should be embraced and promoted by the hospitality industry.
Horeca is an extremely open and honest organisation and this will be seen by the food show they are organising on the July 20. This invitation-only event is bringing suppliers and customers together and offering samples of a wide range of products. The show will also feature guest speakers, seminars and demonstrations from some of the biggest names in the hotel and catering business.
Rudy van den Berg’s approach is extremely rare in business. He is not just making healthy profits but using his knowledge and experience to help and enrich the lives of the individuals and businesses with whom he comes into contact. With Horeca leading the way, I’m sure many others will follow.