This month the focus remains on Covid-19 and the effect it has on the South African fresh produce sector. Whilst the three sectors that are now in the midst of their export programmes are valiantly flying the South African flag, there are undoubtedly going to be disappointments if we compare this season with last year.

During the past week there has been intense focus on just what Covid-19 has done to the international produce trade. This has been highlighted in a comprehensive report by Michael Knowles of the Fruitnet Media and the Fruitnet team.

Before we touch on the report, we want to refer to a conversation with long-time friend Johnathan Olins of Poupart Imports in the UK. Poupart Imports, one of the oldest importers of fresh produce into the UK, has for some time been focussing on the non-supermarket business. They have become an important receiver from South Africa and has grown tremendously amongst service providers in the hospitality and restaurant trade, as well as communities from Mediterranean countries settled in and around London.

Jonathan told us of some remarkable resilience of the non-supermarket sector. Service providers in this sector have acted swiftly to re-engineer their business environment. Their on-line business and home deliveries have grown massively – with the result that demand from service companies in this sector kept steady and in fact increased. “It has been an extremely busy period for us as these service providers found new markets for their products.”

Fredo wanted to know what will happen post Covid? Will these service companies remain in the on-line and home delivery market? Jonathan says this question will still have to be answered. “Our feeling is that once the hospitality business opens up these businesses will in some form return to the old trade. “However, we anticipate that about 30% of their business will remain in the on-line and home delivery sector.”

Interestingly, he says these service providers have done a great job in delivering produce of excellent quality to their customers. In this regard they outperformed the supermarket sector in meeting the expectations of consumers.”

But let’s get back to the produce report from Fruitnet Group. Titled Pressing Refresh, it includes many articles and research published since March, which details the way in which the produce world  has changed and is likely to change.

Mike Knowles asked the question – “What happens next?”

We highlight some of the most important pointers from the report.

As the fresh produce business waits for the rest of the world to reload, it has an unexpected opportunity to rethink, to re-evaluate and to renew.

The question of how long the coronavirus crisis will continue is absolutely critical to what happens next in the world of fresh produce.

For growers and packers, emergency measures are making the production and supply of fresh fruit and vegetables slower, more difficult and more expensive. For logistics providers and distributors, the time and money needed to adjust supply chains is already considerable.

The headline story is of demand ebbing dramatically away from the shipwrecked foodservice sector and surging towards the supermarkets, which mercifully managed to weather an initial stockpiling storm without capsizing.

The likely prospect of foodservice outlets reopening, but the chances are that reopening will not mean a return to what was previously considered normal.

What many markets will potentially be left with as a result of the disruption is a blurring of the lines between foodservice and retail, with both channels trying to adjust and reconnect with consumers. Home delivery has suddenly become an arena in which more supermarkets and restaurants will compete directly for a share of that last mile distribution.

Challenges are not going to disappear so quickly. Like the shoppers waiting patiently outside supermarkets, fruit and vegetable companies will also have to queue for what they need – workers, transport, packaging, fuel and so on – and, when they get to the front of those lines, they will also pay more.

These higher costs will probably never really go away, instead calcifying in all areas and rendering it harder than ever to return value back along the chain. In some cases, we will see that supply base shrink. There is also a good chance we will see a move towards more local, regional and seasonal supply in certain markets. Planning ahead will be far more difficult.

The jury is out on what happens to packaging, for example, and whether there will be greater demand for pre-packed products in the longer term. If that’s a trend that does continue, then pressure to recycle, not to mention invest in new packaging machinery, will intensify.

The need for more integrated supply chains and systems of production has never been greater, Mergers and takeovers will create bigger centres of supply and more powerful service providers, the old rules of supply and demand, as well as economies of scale, will continue to regulate its flow.

A free copy of Fruitnet’s 32-page report about the impact of coronavirus on the international fresh produce business can be downloaded free of charge..

The full report includes news, comment and analysis of three key areas:

+ MARKETS – How lockdown is changing the shape of the fresh produce business + SUPPLY As costs rise, companies need to prepare for some big challenges + LOGISTICS The global fresh produce industry has a serious circulation problem.

To obtain your copy of the full report, just head to

Please contact for further information:

Mike Knowles Editorial Director, Europe – Fruitnet Media International ( +44 20 7501 3702 * Subscriptions ( +44 20 7501 0311 * Copyright © 2020 Fruitnet Media International. All rights reserved.

This edition of Fredo’s Fresh Produce News for June also highlighted other stories relating to South Africa in the international media.

First reefer shipments of South African grape fruit discharged in Japan

Early South African Marsh grape fruit shipments to Japan has now been supplemented by the arrival of the first conventional vessels of the season.

Logistics service providers says the early container shipments were particularly successful and exporters who got into the market early did extremely well. The first conventional vessel left Durban at the end of April and was the first of a number of these vessels co-loaded for Japan and China.

By all accounts the South African citrus industry has benefitted from increased demand for fruit, and specifically citrus fruit, due to the focus on boosting immune systems in the light of the Covid-9 pandemic. It is also clear that the industry were able to start shipping earlier this year, with 21,4 million cartons of all categories having been shipped so far compared with 14,5 million cartons at the same time last year.

The export forecast is now 142,5 million cartons after both the lemon and Valencia forecasts were adjusted upwards last week. The forecast shows that exports of soft citrus, lemons and navels will be significantly higher than last year, while Valencia’s will be more or less the same and grape fruit significantly down.

Leading South African citrus group acquires majority interest in Southern Cape packing facility

ANB Investments – a group with holdings in several South African agricultural companies – has acquired a 51 % stake in the Arisa Packhouse at Buffeljagsrivier near Swellendam in the Southern Cape.

Arisa Packhouse was originally established by Israeli and South African interests at the start of the 2000’s as the centralised packing facility for packing Sharon Fruit in South Africa. Over time it also started packing plums and increasing volumes of avocados produced in the Southern Cape.

ANB Investments says it now plans to refurbishment the facility and do technological upgrades. The 9,500 m2 facility will in future be able to handle additional products including soft citrus and lemons.

ANB Investments, also owns the global ClemenGold mandarin and LemonGold seedless lemon brands, and with the acquisition of the Arisa Packhouse, the company has increased its fruit packing capacity.

“Arisa Packhouse which is located centrally between the Western and Southern Cape Indigo Fruit Farming operations (the fruit producing arm of ANB Investments), will augment the capacity of the other two packhouses located in the region,” says Kabous Vryenhoek, General Manager.

Westfalia Fruit appoints Johnathan Sutton to head up Group Safety and Environment role

Westfalia Fruit International Ltd announced this month that industry veteran Johnathan Sutton has been appointed to fill the newly created role of Executive of Safety & Environment for the multinational Group.

With effect from 1 June, Sutton will be tasked with driving the “Avocado Experts” towards greater heights of sustainability, refining systems and protocols to ensure optimal levels of compliance with regards to environmental impact, food safety, and the health and safety of employees.

Sutton is a leading food industry professional with high-level procurement, technical and commercial knowledge, gained over decades in the retail sector. He is an advocate and coach of continuous improvement and has a drive for lean efficiency across all pillars of the industry. A proven team leader, John is committed to people development, product innovation, sustainability and strategic sourcing.

“At a time when the world’s attention is focused on the preservation of health, safety and the environment, John is a welcome addition to our Westfalia Fruit family,” notes Group CEO Alk Brand. “He’s also a staunch supporter of the values that have been upheld by the Group since it was founded over seven decades ago.” It’s this heritage, together with a clear vision for the future, that will help drive the Group towards continuous improvement of food and people safety as well as sustainability for all its global business units, says Brand.

Resilience of the South African apple and pear sector tested

Although the South African apple sector is very much on target with its export volume compared with last year, the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is clearly reflected in what has been shipped to key markets.

For years now the South African apple sector has worked consistently to reduce its dependence on its traditional markets in Europe and the United Kingdom. They have been remarkably successful as is demonstrated by the fact that the Far East and Asia and Africa are now the most important markets. These two regions, despite the difficulties in these marketing regions, so far this season again received 51% of all exports.

This, however, do not tell the full story. So far this season shipment to Africa has dropped by 13% compared to last year, and to the Far East and Asia by 14%.

The 14,775 million cartons shipped so far is just slightly less than last year year’s shipments at the same time of the season. The slack has been taken up by the Middle East and Europe, with the UK holding steady on just slightly less than last year.