Marketing tips: Transporting fresh produce

By Digital team | 31 July 2018
Zambian farmers; marketing; produce

If planned badly, transport for fresh produce is expensive, but used properly it can become cost-effective.

There are 3 factors a producer needs to adhere to when planning transport for fresh produce. Get them right and you’ll find transport isn’t the monster some people make it out to be.


The quality of your produce has an impact on your transport costs. Here’s a simple calculation to illustrate this:
Selling 100 boxes of Class 1 tomatoes @ R25 each amounts to an income of R2 500. Transport cost @ R2/box x 100 comes to R200. Your income will be R2 500 – R200 = R2 300.

If you sell 100 boxes of Class 2 tomatoes @ R15 each, you’ll get R1 500. The transport cost @ R2/box x 100 remains R200. Your income will be R1 500 – R200 = R1 300.

The difference between Class 1 and Class 2 is R2 300 – R 1300 = R1 000. That is a loss of R10 per box if you sell Class 2 tomatoes instead of Class 1.

Because the transport cost is fixed at R2/box, the actual cost of selling Class 2 tomatoes instead of Class 1 increases to R12 per box.


Unfortunately, most fresh produce cannot be stored until you have enough to make up a load. As long as the crop doesn’t have to be picked right away, you can plan your picking according to the availability of transport.

Align your picking and transport planning so that you can send your produce on the right day and get the best prices. It costs money to travel, whether you load 1 pocket of potatoes or 1 000.

Cost to get to the market remains the same but the cost per unit goes down the more you load. Of course, you shouldn’t overload because then you could have the added cost of a fine or perhaps broken springs!

Try to combine loads with your neighbours if you don’t have enough for a load yourself. Use reliable transport. If that bakkie breaks down along the way it’s your products and your money standing in the sun getting hot and losing quality.

And you’ll feel it in your bank account when your prices are down as a result. Keep a log book for your vehicle to calculate costs per km, so you can see what it’s costing you per trip.


It breaks my heart when I see bakkies coming out of the market so overloaded that they could collapse in a heap after a few kilometres. I know a driver has to get the most out of his vehicle, but overloading is not the answer as it will only damage products.

When loading, make sure you put the tough products such as potatoes or butternut at the bottom and soft products such as lettuce on top. Pack carefully from the bottom front corner of the loading area, and build the stack carefully so that, once it gets higher than the sides, it starts angling inwards like a pyramid to prevent boxes or bags falling off.

Handle everything carefully and when you’ve finished don’t allow anybody to sit on top.

If you need to cover the load with a plastic tarpaulin because rain threatens, make sure it’s tied down properly. Only use tarpaulin if you really have to; not if it’s hot, for instance, as those products are going to sweat under the plastic.

If you have open boxes of lettuce on top you’ll need to find a way to protect them from the wind or they’ll show wilting and damage which will reduce the price.

Also read:
What happens to fruit after the harvest?
Sorting, washing, grading and packing your fresh produce

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