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Brexit forces UK company to look further afieldOn the 23rd of June the British went to the polls and voted leave the European Union. According to Anthony Pile, founder of Blue Skies, a UK company which has been exporting fresh cut fruit from Africa to Europe for the last 20 years, this was a big mistake.
"We have not left yet but we might as well have judging by what its done to the pound," explains Anthony. "It fell sharply but has recovered somewhat and I think it will stay at this level for a while now. But there is a silver lining - people like us who are European and English have been forced to look to other parts of the world, where they are not dealing in pounds. The US Dollar is attractive, as is the Hong Kong Dollar and Chinese Yen. Looking both east and west there are markets which are attractive to us now. In these markets we can sell our products and get a decent return."
Having been through the European phytosanitary mill, Blue Skies has all the necessary certificates, “We have only been able to do what we do by striving for really high standards," said Anthony. "Some people think that products from Africa are of a lower standard, so it is very important to demonstrate that we are not only as good as, but better than, the factories based in Europe. It’s hugely gratifying, because we’ve been rewarded by the consumer and the retailer.”
Blue Skies was at Asia Fruit Logistica for the first time this year and had a huge amount of interest from visitors. "Fresh cut is new to this part of the world and there is interest from retailers here, also from people asking how we do it, which of course we don't tell them," laughs Anthony.
Blue Skies will send a team over to the PMA in the US next month where they hope to follow the same path as they have in Europe.
Anthony is convinced that his company has played a key role in the growing popularity of cut fruit, as Blue Skies has been recording a growth of about 20% a year. In the beginning it took a while for the fresh cut market to get moving but now it is very popular.
At the moment, the firm supplies numerous countries, including the UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland, and it has recently managed to enter the German and Austrian markets, working at the moment exclusively with retailers.
“That way, you get the volume and the structure, although retailers are also much keener on prices, because they want stability, and our raw material is up and down all the time, so we are finding it more and more important to look at more markets in order to prevent the risk of a sudden surge in prices,” states Anthony.
In the nearly 20 years since its creation, Blue Skies has gone from a little factory in Ghana, employing 35 people and supplying the very first fresh cut pineapples to Sainsbury’s, in the UK, to employing almost 5,000 people, with 7 factories, two pack houses and a couple of farms. It has been a story of picking the next fruit and doing something that nobody else had done before, according to Anthony.
Blue Skies take the raw material (the fruit) when it is absolutely right and ready to eat, which means it only has a few days shelf life, “We then cut it, put it in a pack and fly it using cargo space in passenger aircraft, rather than using freighters. We do about 200 tonnes a week out of West Africa; also from South Africa, Egypt and Brazil. West Africa tends to account for around just over half of the total, as it has become pretty popular now to eat papayas, pineapple, coconuts, or seedless watermelons, but especially mangoes. We offer all of these in cut packs,” Anthony explains.
A very important part of the business is to contribute to the development of the middle class in West Africa. Blue Skies employs a lot of people in these areas, using people to do things instead of machinery wherever possible, and paying them 3.5 times the minimum wage.
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