market; fresh; produce; storage; exporting; quality

Marketing tips: An introduction to exporting your fruit and vegetables

Exporting is the ultimate marketing aim for any serious fruit or vegetable farmer, but it needs time, high standards, commitment and good management.*

Many people encourage new farmers to export because it is seen as a lucrative marketing option. But they say this without really understanding what’s needed to be a successful export farmer.

Let’s consider some of the more important requirements.

In the other marketing options we looked at, I explained that each was a step up through the supply chain. I compared the steps to a school career where one starts in the lowest grade and, over a period of years, reaches the top grade.

Also read: Marketing tips: The fresh produce supply chain

Exporting fruit and vegetables is much the same. You need to learn the business of farming over a period of time before you can consider exporting. I’m not suggesting you take 12 years, like a youngster at school, but I am saying that you should start small and learn as you progress. This will put you in a strong position to have the knowledge, skills and management you will need for exporting.

Quality, quantity and continuity are the three most important requirements, from a farmer’s point of view. Get them right, and you’ll have the buyers queueing at your door.


This is the single most important requirement for every farmer, but even more so for those engaged in exporting.

  • We live in a very competitive world and only the best products will sell.
  • When you export, you compete against the rest of the world.
  • Buyers overseas have high standards and many options.
  • If your products aren’t the best quality, they’re simply refused, and you have to take whatever you can get on some faraway market.
  • You will also have had the higher costs of packaging and transport which you hoped to recover on the market.

Producing top-quality products doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why I say a farmer should start at the bottom and learn.

Even the best farmers will tell you that producing excellent quality fruit, year after year, is a never-ending challenge that’s subject to change every year. You really have to be on top of your game, as they say, to remain competitive in exports.

When I talk about quality, I mean every¬thing about the fruit, from the right production methods to achieving top quality, to careful harvesting, to good grading, sorting and packing, to good-quality containers, to the most efficient cold storage, and (always) careful handling.

You can have the best quality fruit in the world, but it won’t help if the other factors aren’t right, because you will end up spoiling, or even destroying, most of that fruit. Quality – in fact, top quality in its widest sense – is the key to successful exporting.

Also read: Sorting, washing, grading and packing your fresh produce


  • One of the requirements of good marketing is having sufficient supplies of the product.
  • It doesn’t help to have a little of the best quality – and then nothing.
  • There must be a substantial volume to maximise the many costs (such as packaging and shipping), as well as being able to meet the needs of the client.
  • Shipping fruit by sea requires filling containers, and if you can do that within your own operation, you can keep the costs down.
  • When you’re sending speciality, high-value products by air, you should strive to make up a minimum of one ton, as that will give you a better airfreight rate.
  • When planning production, calculate how many boxes you want to export.
  • Remember that exports require only the very best of the crop – not all of it – so you must make sure you have enough in production to meet your export requirements.


  • This simply means having a regular supply throughout the season.
  • An overseas buyer won’t even look at your products if you can only supply a little now and then; a little more in 3 weeks’ time and then perhaps some more in a month or 2.
  • Good marketing requires consistency of supply; you must have enough of the right quality to supply over a given period.
  • This means good production planning and management.
  • Continuity is fundamental to good marketing, and as a farmer, you need to ensure that you have enough of the right quality in the right quantities to meet your clients’ needs.

Also read:
Supplying fresh produce markets
Options to market your fruit and vegetables
Supplying vegetables and fruit to supermarkets

*This applies not only to fruit and vegetable farmers, but to all farmers wanting to export their produce.

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA

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