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Jako van Lill -Fruits Unlimited

Innovation in varieties to extend the stone fruit season

In recent years stone fruit sales have been falling, this could be due to new trendy super fruits becoming popular or the rise of the soft fruit category or maybe consumers just want see something different in the stone fruit offering? 

South Africa company Fruits Unlimited are doing their best to change that. The company is making big moves to bring new varieties to the market and also to prolong the season.

Jako van Lill at Asia Fruit Logistica 2016

Plums are a major product for Fruits Unlimited. South Africa has +- 5,000 hectares of plums planted. “Thirty-one per cent of those orchards, about 1,500 hectares, are older than 16 years, and therefore reaching the end of their life. These all need to be renewed, and that is our challenge,” says Jako van Lill, Head of Stone fruit Department at Fruits Unlimited. “At the moment, we can supply our customers with stone fruit about seven to eight months of the year, which is quite unique for South Africa.”

Zaiger, one of the breeding programmes used by Fruits Unlimited, is located in California. “We visit California quite often, about once a year. When bringing new varieties to South Africa, they first have to be quarantined, which takes about two or three years. Evaluation in South Africa also takes at least two or three years. Propagation takes another year, and after planting, it takes at least two years until first production. So it takes time to introduce a new variety, it is an investment that you have to be willing to make,” says Jako.

Jako van Lill with Floyd Zaiger in California

“We focus on extending our plum season with varieties like Flavor Fall, which is a late variety. We have planted 180 hectares of Flavour Fall. Of the other interspecific varieties, we already have more than 100 hectares planted. We will soon have more than 300 hectares of interspecific plums, which is unique in South Africa,” Jako explains. 

“In week 49, we had our first samples of Ruby Dawn, which is a red on red variety.” This means it has both red skin and red flesh. It is a variety that stores very well, and can be shipped at -0.5 degrees Celsius, which reduces quality risks. More commercial plums are Zeta Red, Honey Punch, Fall Fiesta and Midnight Gold, which is a black on yellow plum. The latest plum of the season is Autumn Treat, which stretches the season by three weeks after Flavor Fall is finished.

The company is also extending its apricot season by investing in late and early varieties “We want to provide a full winter product to our customers,” Jako says. “It is quite unique to have apricots in January, or even later, in South Africa. We have our challenges, but most of our late varieties come from Spain and we have good contacts there, so we can learn from them.” The company focuses on the Buffat and Carmingo ranges. “The Buffat varieties are early apricot starting in week 43, and Camingo range is late till the end of January. We use these to extend our apricot season.” “We are increasing our apricot production slowly but steadily with varieties that add value to our offer.”

New varieties 
“Our aim is to give our customers a range of varieties, which appeal to them. We hold regular tastings which are important, because they allow customers to tell us which varieties they like. Their feedback is important to us. We also take our customers to our growers and our packhouses. And our growers like knowing who they are growing and packing for. Many of our customers, especially in the UK, already have representatives in South Africa. We have integrated support, from growers in the field all the way through maturity so that we can provide our customers with a good product.” According to Jako, the company grow throughout South Africa starting end of Sept in the north and end the season in week 20 in the Western Cape.

“The pace of new varieties is much faster than the old ones. We focus on the technical aspect of cultivation, and we have seen the results,” Jako continues. “The problem with older varieties is that we cannot reach, for example, China, because of problems with storage-ability. Newer varieties give us the opportunity to explore markets further away.”

“Income per hectare is an important aspect of our business. Having a good yield per hectare with good size and pack outs in combination with relatively good prices is the way to make money. Our new varieties ensure that,” Jako explains.

Despite the struggles, the South African market is growing. “This is quite encouraging, actually. We see ourselves as one of the leaders in the field of innovations, especially in plums, in South Africa. Packaging, using different technologies, increasing shelf life, quality insurance, in these areas we have seen the results. We have had a good year so far, our efforts are actually paying off.”

Europe is one of the major market for the company, and the UK in particular. “We want to extend our supermarket business in Europe and this is an ongoing plan, at least,” Jako says. “But we are also in Hong Kong, and all the other smaller Asian countries. However, as a country, we have already got a good global footprint but we need access to China to grow further.”

For more information:
Jako van Lill
Mob: +27 (0) 82 824 5192
Tel:  +27 (0) 21 860 1800
Email:  jako@fruits.co.za

Publication date: 1/5/2017
Author: Nichola McGregor
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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