Colouring the country bright yellow

An interview with CFO of Jumbo Ton van Veen

In just over a decade the yellow Jumbo logo has popped up all over the Netherlands during an impressive expansion that saw the retailer going from 128 to nearly 700 stores. As CFO, alumnus Ton van Veen has been instrumental in this transformation. He talks to us about team spirit, working for a family-owned company, sponsoring top athletes and the passionate believe that we all need to take our responsibility to make the world more sustainable.

From a retail chain operating mostly in the South of the Netherlands, the Jumbo Group has turned into a major player in the Dutch retail landscape with a market share of more than 21% and 100,000 employees. The company bought rivals C1000 and Super De Boer, both larger than Jumbo, added restaurant formula La Place and a string of stores that belonged to supermarkets Konmar, Emté and Agrimarkt. ‘Without Ton’s okay there will be no deal,’ according to newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Who could have predicted that when he started his Econometrics study 33 years ago?

How did you become involved in retail?

‘Back then, the Econometrics curriculum was rather abstract. That was not really what I had expected, so I switched to Business Economics in the middle of my first year. I worked hard and managed to pass all the exams with good grades so I didn’t lose any time. In the last part of my study, I chose a specialisation called Quantitative Business Economics. This allowed me to put my love for numbers to good use while it also provided a solid base for my first step into the world of business at telecommunications company KPN. My next job took me abroad for Campina International where I eventually became the CFO before I was approached by the Van Eerd family, owners of Jumbo Group.’

What is it like to work for a family-owned business?

‘In the past I have been a guest lecturer at Erasmus School of Economics on the topic of family owned businesses. Collectively, they are a major employer and generate a large part of GDP, but the audience usually had an image of less professional environments where family members were scattered all over their firms to determine everything. This could not be further from the truth as I know it. At Jumbo there are currently four family members that play an active role, among them the chairman and two executive board members. They are all seasoned professionals with a wealth of experience who know that they need talent from outside as well. We have our own management development programme where graduates from various universities join us, but we also attract people from competitors, even at the highest level. These new colleagues are usually surprised to see that working for this family-owned business is actually very entrepreneurial and initiative is much appreciated.’

‘Without Ton’s okay there will be no deal’

Can you describe your role in Jumbo’s acquisitions?

‘The amount of freedom I have is probably much bigger than in a more corporate environment. The family relies on the skills I have acquired during my study at Erasmus School of Economics as well as the insights and experience I have gained afterwards. Our acquisitions of C1000 and Super De Boer were actually reverse take-overs, since both organisations were much bigger than Jumbo. I doubt Ahold Delhaize (owner of Albert Heijn and would have done these deals if they had been in our position. We surrounded ourselves with good advisers in the field of corporate finance and legal matters, but ultimately I felt a clear responsibility to give my professional opinion about the feasibility of the family’s ambitions and the Van Eerds made clear they trusted my advice.’ 

How does the group ensure that its culture is embedded in the companies it acquires?

‘Integrating another company involves many aspects such as the transformation of the stores or aligning ICT and distribution systems. Not everything needs to be the Jumbo way. If we can learn from our new colleagues we will do so, but when it comes to sharing our culture we make no concessions. Our people are 100% committed to putting the customer first and working as a team. This may have its origin in the fact that the Jumbo owners have always been working with the customers themselves and these values were passed on from one generation to the next. If people can’t commit to our approach, we will have a constructive conversation, but ultimately we may have to part company.’ 

Can you tell us about your online activities?

‘One of the most important developments is the increasing shift to online shopping, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Our supermarkets are now generating about 7% of revenues online and this will only increase. It costs 20 to 25 euro to pick and deliver an order at home because our staff has to fill the basket and we have to deliver it. Both things are normally done by clients themselves. We are not able to recoup these costs (fully), but if we take into account all the channels through which a household shops with us it is still profitable. Being online gives us the chance to offer customers the Jumbo experience regardless of where and when they shop, while it also helps us to protect market share in the competitive retail landscape. In addition, our online presence results in a wealth of data that is analysed on our Jumbo Tech Campus. This helps us to get to know the customer even better so that we can stay at the forefront of service development.’

‘The family relies on the skills I have acquired during my study at Erasmus School of Economics as well as the insights and experience I have gained afterwards’

Why has Jumbo opted for a Schuldschein instead of additional bank financing or bonds?

‘The Schuldschein is in fact a private placement that offers us the chance to tailor loans to our needs and be in direct contact with lenders such as smaller banks and institutional parties like pension funds. Originally, we were looking to raise 100 million euro, but because it was four times oversubscribed we decided to double the amount. 

We don’t need the money right now. Our debt currently equals about 0,5 times EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation). Although this is well within the limit of 3 times EBITDA agreed in our debt convenants with the three big Dutch banks, we wanted to reduce our bank exposure and safeguard borrowing capacity for future growth opportunities. Issuing public bonds did not seem attractive to us because tradable securities involve extensive regulatory requirements. In addition, you never really know to whom you owe money because the composition of the bondholders changes all the time. We have seen what this meant for HEMA where the bondholders were able to take control of the destiny of the company. A Schuldschein enables us to pay down part of our bank debt so that bank financing is available quickly should it be needed for further acquisitions.’

What is your view on sustainability?

‘This year Jumbo celebrates its centenary. Our shareholders are in it for the long-term, which implies sustainability and working with stakeholders on all aspects instead of focusing on the next quarter. We are literally society’s shop window. Whether it is animal welfare, farmers’ livelihoods, emissions or new ideas about packaging, we care and that is reflected in the large offering of certified products in our stores and a steady decline in our ecological footprint. 

As a company we attach great value to integrated reporting. On top of financial, operational and commercial reporting, taking the responsibility to stakeholders is essential for us. Sustainability involves difficult dilemmas and we want to show what choices we make. Packaging is a case in point. Instinctively we might be inclined to think that less is more sustainable, but the right packaging can reduce food waste because it makes perishables last longer. This transparency is not something recent, on our website ( people can see that we have been reporting on these matters since 2009. It is more than communication though. We have made sustainability an integral part of the way we manage. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are used throughout the entire company to monitor whether we meet targets and how much improvement is actually made.’

‘We consider sponsoring skating and cycling teams as a great way to express the importance of healthy living’

Where do you go the extra mile?

‘We are very much aware of our role in society. Our license to operate is based on living up to generally accepted standards, but we would like to distinguish ourselves in areas where we can make a difference. In our case that is health. It is not up to us to tell people what to do, but we want to inform our clients about options for healthy living and stimulate them to put these into practice. Like other supermarkets we have a recipe website (, but we have taken it one step further. We teamed up with Team Jumbo-Visma cycling and skating, and football club PSV to work with experts from inside and outside the company to determine the optimal amount of calories given the type of physical exercise an athlete intends to do. All this expertise was bundled in the Jumbo Foodcoach app, which was created by our specialists on the Jumbo Tech Campus. The app translates the calories into proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Based on the comments of the elite athletes we have fine-tuned the programme for cycling, skating, running, hockey and fitness. In fact, we are in talks to make it part of the programme for the Dutch Olympic team. 

The Foodcoach is now available for everybody. Users can enter their exercise plans for the week to receive detailed guidance on how to include the right nutrients in their diet so the body can perform optimally. The app offers a wide range of recipes that help people to prepare a meal that includes everything that is needed. A shopping list is provided in the app so that the necessary groceries can be ordered straight away. Of course we hope that some of this shopping will be done at Jumbo, but it is also our way of helping people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.’

Can you tell us a bit more about Jumbo’s sponsoring?

‘Sponsoring athletes at the highest level is important for us as a consumer brand. We want our name to be associated with topics that are important in our culture such as health, winning together and talent development. Our relationship with Max Verstappen is a good example. We were already supporting him when he was competing in karts races and are proud to have been with him all the way. Internationally we are not well known (yet), but our name on Max’s helmet gives us an exposure that is normally only available to global brands with very deep pockets. He also features in some of our commercials and attends the Jumbo racing days. When looking at other sports, we consider sponsoring skating and cycling teams as a great way to express the importance of healthy living. In the case of PSV we are focusing more on a strategic partnership to develop food knowledge.

For me personally, it is also an interesting addition to my career. I represent Jumbo on the boards of PSV, and Team Jumbo-Visma where I am chairman. In addition, I am a board member of HEMA (which the Van Eerd family recently bought in partnership with investment firm Parcom) and cosmetics firm Rituals.’

Do you still feel connected to Erasmus School of Economics?

‘Rotterdam evokes warm feelings in me. A while ago, the “Financieele Dagblad” asked me to describe a memorable place and for me that is the Van Brienenoordbridge. Flanking the university campus, it connects the West where I grew up and more specifically the Rotterdam skyline to the South where I live and work. Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd, my colleague on the Jumbo board, and her husband Raymond Cloosterman, founder and CEO of Rituals, are alumni too, as are several of my friends. In business you recognise Rotterdam economists because they are usually a bit more entrepreneurial and no-nonsense. Students from Erasmus School of Economics definitely have a head start when they apply for a job at Jumbo.’

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