Shannon Lesch – Market Demand Fruits

Soft citrus specialist focuses on longterm relationships

On the farms of the growers of Market Demand Fruits, Tangos, Orris and Nadorcotts are currently being harvested.

The company is a soft citrus specialist mainly in the Western Cape and with specific growers up North, aiming to be a leader in the category through their long-term relationships with their growers (thirteen of whom are shareholders in the company).

The late mandarin harvest will run until the end of August.

Nadorcotts (photos supplied by Market Demand Fruits)

“The quality has really improved tremendously this year,” says Shannon Lesch, Logistics Coordinator at this grower-exporter company based in Simondium, Paarl. “Especially on the clementines the sugar levels are great and overall quality very good.”

Clemenules is a variety that does very well for the group and this category of clementines makes up 41% of their portfolio, followed by 37% of late mandarins and 22% mandarins.

"The future of citrus lies in easy peelers"
Within their portfolio, 85% of their exports consist of soft citrus, with a balance of 9% lemons and 6% oranges.

Market Demand Fruits has developed longstanding relationships with several UK and USA retail groups which form the focus of their marketing strategy. “Luckily we focus on retailers,” Shannon says, a strategy of stability that proved itself this year.

The USA is a keen market for their Novas. “There has been a big pull for Novas from the US this season,” notes Shannon.

“We estimate to do approximately a million 15kg cartons of soft citrus this season and in the next two to three years that number will increase to roughly 2.4 million 15kg cartons exported due to all of the new plantings.”

Soft citrus orchards in the Western Cape

She notes that within the group they are not planting any new lemon orchards.

"The future of citrus lies in easy peelers as a growing commodity. We therefore want to be known for supplying the best soft citrus varieties from March till end of August where flavour, seedlessness, easy peeling fruit and exceptional colour are where our product focus lies," she says.

The majority of their lemons go to European and UK retailers where the most stability has been been for the last three seasons.

Logistical challenges 
“We take a very hands-on approach to all aspects of the entire supply chain,” she explains. The company’s citrus is grown on farms around Paarl, Moorreesburg, Rawsonville and Swellendam. They also source fruit from Brits (Northwest Province) for an early window supply. In doing so it enables them to broaden their footprint on the domestic market, supplying a few local retailers directly.

It has been a very challenging season for the citrus industry and like other Western Cape citrus exporters they’ve had to truck citrus to Port Elizabeth in order to avoid the delays at Cape Town, which brings significant extra costs with it.

Shannon points out that container shortages are making the season even more difficult.

Covid-19 fund
In partnership with the Waitrose Foundation they have created a Covid-19 Fund. The fund is to provide Market Demand Fruits producers with the necessary assistance with regards to preventative measures. These are face masks and sanitisers to disinfect their hands, tools and machinery and purchasing of thermometers to measure temperatures of farmworkers.

Clinic and training centre on Thornlands Farm near Swellendam, established with assistance from the Waitrose Foundation and Market Demand Fruits

The goal of the Covid-19 fund is to ensure the health and safety of both the farmworkers and their families by creating a safe working environment for all parties involved. They have a longstanding relationship with a children’s home in Wellington and educational programmes introduced at aftercare centres on farms.

For more information:
Shannon Lesch
Market Demand Fruits
Tel: +27 21 874 2028

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