Fresh produce industry says teamwork will make the dream work

8 August 2023

By: Lucille Botha

The biggest issue facing the fresh produce industry is not logistics or electricity but the fragmentation that hinders communication with consumers.

This was the view of Charl du Bois, head of trading at Capespan, during a panel discussion at the International Fresh Produce Association (Ifpa) Southern Africa conference in Cape Town.

“Whether it’s soft citrus, grapes, or apple producers, they are very passionate about their product, but what we lack is collaboration as an entire industry,” said Du Bois.

“I think South Africa should stand together and promote the country, because avocados and apples actually have the same story to tell, and we should take it collectively to the world.”

Paulina Theologou Criticos, CEO of Westfalia in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said “Avocados from Mexico” is a brand in America. Colombia, on the other hand, claims to be more water-efficient in avocado production than, for example, Spain, and therefore more sustainable.

“We need to tell our stories because people need to know about South Africa’s quality, and what we are doing about our water footprint and uplifting communities. However, these stories do not necessarily reach the consumers because marketing them is expensive. The trick is for the industry to come together and pool the money.”

According to Tommie van Zyl, CEO of ZZ2, there is great power in collaboration. “As a single producer, it is almost impossible to sell your product. But when producers work together – even though they may still compete with each other – the message reaches far places.”

He said South Africa has excellent products but the industry needs to be more enthusiastic about them and manage its problems better.

“There is much we can do without seeking higher authority. That attitude also leads to people wanting your product because you are nimble and resilient in delivering your product, regardless of what happens.”

Tamara Muruetagoiena, director of sustainability at Ifpa, said one of the messages the industry can better convey is about packaging. International collaboration between fresh produce industries is also crucial for this.

“We have to take perfect products to consumers through a very complex supply chain and through different countries. To get it right, we need packaging – especially plastic – which is one of the biggest contributors to our environmental footprint. It’s a big headache for us.”

Consumers and regulators needed to be educated about packaging and shown the innovations taking place, she said.

“While we are not close to solving the problem, there are different materials and improved recyclability. We need to educate consumers and regulators about where we are heading so that they realise the best way to help us is to financially support us with innovation rather than making it harder to do business.”

Unlike the fashion industry, with brands such as Patagonia or Nike, the fresh produce industry does not have big brands, said Tamara. “We therefore need a collective voice. Sustainability is global in nature. It looks the same from New Zealand to Spain. An international, collective voice will make us stronger and help us move forward.”

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