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The Southern Africa Conference of the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) recently took place at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town. This annual conference aims to bring together a diverse community of producers, distributors, input and service providers, wholesalers, retailers, importers/exporters, processors, manufacturers and anyone passionate about fresh produce.
Together, they explore the latest trends, innovations and challenges facing the industry, fostering a collaborative environment for knowledge sharing and mutual growth. Conference sessions included the state of the industry, perspectives on the industry’s future, global trends and African strategies for optimising fresh produce logistics, global supply chain disruptions and how they are being addressed by the Global Produce Coalition.
The future has never been brighter
IFPA’s CEO, Cathy Burns gave the state of the industry address. She presented the latest global information and research, and explained what it means to the supply chain in Southern Africa. As an organisation, IFPA aspires to be an impactful champion for its members and the fresh produce industry, one that clears the way so that more people can have more fresh produce in their lives.
Burns said the challenges facing the fresh produce industry, such as inflation, climate change and employment, have never been stronger. Despite these challenges, the industry’s future has been brighter and is set to make more of an impact. The fresh produce industry is one that produces products that impact the health and well-being of every human on the planet, Burns said.
Food as medicine
“What if we create a world where everyone knows that the solution to diet-driven diseases is found on your plate and not in a pill, and changes their eating habits accordingly? We have the answers to address obesity, to address diabetes and to address all diet-related diseases. It is becoming ever clearer to me that the solution to our health challenges is not found in the pharm but on the farm,” Burns said.
From medically tailored meals to precision nutrition to produce prescriptions, fresh fruits and vegetables are poised to lead meaningful changes in consumer health. A heightened focus on health has contributed to increased interest in plant-based diets. But the trend means the produce industry now faces competition from manufacturers that position their products as better than produce, Burns said.
“Our challenge is to dream big and act boldly. If we don’t, all of our actions will automatically be small and weak. The opportunity that we have as an organisation and community is not to simply change the game, but to change the world. Our time is now to address the challenges collectively,” she said.
IFPA deserves to be at the table
Burnes said the fresh produce industry must stick up for themselves. “IFPA will be bolder and more aggressive in future. We are going to be at every table where food is being discussed. That is not the case right now. We are now changing our orientation and if we are not invited, we will invite ourselves. If you look at the obesity rates and the dietary diseases, we have the answer and we deserve to be at the table.
“We will continue to work through our own challenges as an industry to ensure that we have a constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. We are going to champion the fresh produce industry globally. We are going to increase our voice and come to the table with data and research that will make a huge difference,” she said.
Get the job done
Tommie van Zyl, chief executive officer of ZZ2, said he remained positive because there are more strengths than weaknesses in South Africa. “We should not be discouraged by the problems we have now. We have the ability to fill the gaps of a failing state and poor service delivery ourselves. We need to align our strategies and get on the same page in terms of opportunities.
“That doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. If you wait for the government to help you in all the areas where the state should help you, you’re going to get off badly.”
Instead of blaming and shaming someone, just get the job done. Self-help is a concept that can help many in today’s world. The crisis of for instance power failure (load shedding) is bringing us a lot of opportunities.”
Opportunity in decentralisation
He said the big opportunity is decentralisation which is a trend that is increasingly shaping our future. “It had to happen in South Africa. Developing central solutions just becomes too complex and difficult. There are too many variables. When something starts to go wrong with a strong centralised service provider such as Eskom, the fault becomes centralised on a large scale.”
It would be best to break Eskom up into manageable units, he said, where teams have the ability to identify and solve problems. “If a business has become so big that the problems can no longer be identified, then you have problems.
“One has to try and build ecosystems where the expertise is focussed on that part of the value channel where the value creator’s strengths are and then you have to establish partnerships to create that value. That is decentralisation,” Van Zyl said.
Shaping the future
Van Zyl was part of a panel discussion on ‘Shaping the future of the fresh produce industry: An industry perspective on current issues.’ Other panelists were Paulina Criticos, chief executive director of Westfalia Fruit, Charl du Bois, commercial head at Capespan, and Tamara Muruetagoiena, director of sustainability at IFPA.
Criticos encouraged industry members to accept that consumers like perfect food and find other uses for imperfect food. “We have to be the problem solvers; we have to innovate throughout the value chain at every step and it will pay off. Investing in innovation and technology will keep us ahead of the industry.”
Du Bois said South Africa and Southern Africa have a natural market in Europe and the UK, but also a developing market in Asia and America. The South African industry has a great story to tell regarding the upliftment industry has undertaken and the number of jobs created in truly poverty-stricken rural areas where there are very few other opportunities for people with low-level skills.
Muruetagoiena said the future lies in the opportunities of sustainability. Sustainability takes centre stage in every industry, everywhere. “Sustainability is not just one thing; it is not only packaging or logistics. It is mostly a change of mindset. We need to change the way we have done things for a long time. We need a lot of innovation, but we need to embrace it and be transparent. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” she said.
Logistics: Co-operation between countries
In a discussion on global trends and African strategies for optimising fresh produce logistics, Abhilash Kunjupilla, managing director of Imperial Clearing and Forwarding South Africa, said addressing the logistical infrastructure in Southern Africa is a complex task that requires commitment and collaboration from governments, businesses, and international partners.
Co-operation between Southern African countries is important to create a seamless transportation network. This involves the removal of trade barriers, streamlining customs procedures and harmonising regulations. Governments and private companies should focus on developing transportation corridors that connect major economic sectors, trades, and hubs, Kunjupilla said.
Jan Crafford, head of sales and business development sub-Saharan Africa, Imperial Clearing and Forwarding SA, said the challenges the fresh produce industry in Southern Africa faces in terms of the logistical sector, are inadequate infrastructure, port congestion, inefficient border procedures and a lack of harmonised regulations across countries. This leads to delays, increased costs, and reduced competitiveness.
Address the cost of production
Robert Guenther, chief policy officer at IFPA, led an interactive discussion focussing on the challenges being addressed by the Global Produce Coalition of Fresh Produce, and explained how companies can work together to manage this complex environment. The coalition brings together fresh produce associations from around the world, based on their joint vision to create resilient global value chains for fruits and vegetables that bring a myriad of economic, environmental, and societal benefits. The coalition’s mission is to voice solutions to address disruptions in global supply chains for fresh produce, including – but not limited to – rising costs, and share and promote best practices.
He said one of the action areas for 2023 to 2024 is how to address the cost of production by addressing the price producers receive for their products and the issue of not being able to cover production costs. How does the industry highlight supply chain cost increases and how does the industry share and promote best practices?
US will not turn its back on us
In an answer to a question, Guenther said the US is not going to turn its back on Africa as a continent. “In my view, the African continent and South Africa are way too important for the US to turn their back on. I do not see it happening.”
This follows a series of hearings by the US trade representative office where they testified as to whether the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) should continue for South Africa. “Looking at the long-term benefits that AGOA has had and will continue to have for the US and Africa, I do think South Africa will be included in a future re-authorised AGOA,” he said.
SA’s fresh produce markets are unique
Tommie van Zyl, CEO of ZZ2, said the survival of the fresh produce markets in South Africa and the access they give to small traders is a unique situation globally. It gives people access to products and allows them to sustain their businesses. Many opportunities are developing that increase the mobility of the product from the aggregation point on the market to the small retailers.
Jaco Oosthuizen, country council chair of IFPA Southern Africa, said in terms of the supply and demand dynamics you will never actually find fresh produce markets being out of stock. It is probably the freshest quality with the best possible prices. “The South African model is unique and I do believe that in essence, we are ahead of the rest of the world in terms of our fresh produce markets and access to fresh produce every day of the year.”
The young generation is the driving force
Rubab Abdoolla of Euromonitor commented on the top ten global consumer trends for 2023. She explained how one can use consumer trend analyses to remain competitive and grow sales in the year ahead and beyond.
She said the South African region can expect price sensitivity to continue to prevail in 2023 and 2024. Businesses that provide affordable solutions to their target market are likely to gain in terms of the target market. “We expect that the younger generation will drive product innovation and the way businesses engage with their target groups.” She also suggested that businesses look at innovative distribution models. – Hugo Lochner, Plaas Media