The Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum turned twenty last year and CEO Anton Kruger talked to FreshPlaza about the organisation which, since he joined it nine years ago, has grown by 60% and represents 90% of South Africa’s fresh exports. “I suspect we’re doing something right,” he says. “When I joined the organisation in 2012 we had 88 members, now we have 142.”
Their primary focus is enlarging market access for South African fruit and obtaining improved import protocols in existing markets. This cannot be done by the industry on its own and the FPEF works in close collaboration with the South African government.
Participation in international events has grown from initially only Fruit Logistica Berlin to eleven trade shows annually to ensure constant and intense exposure for the South African fresh produce industry (although fruit dominates, vegetables are officially incorporated into their portfolio).
Anton Kruger at the South African Pavilion at an international trade show
“Expanding market access is necessary as a result of the increase in export volumes, which in turn is a result of new plantings. The main emphasis is on the East where populations are increasing and the middle class are growing and moreover these are countries whose diets include a lot of fresh fruit,” he explains.
FPEF is a voluntary organisation, but not all applications are accepted. Those that are, sign a code of conduct; there have been around five instances of termination of membership during his term, not a pleasant process, he notes, but one necessary to safeguard the integrity and reputation of South African fresh produce exports.
“Our mediation service adds value to the industry. It is a free service for FPEF members to resolve disputes between exporters and suppliers or producers, as a measure to avoid expensive legal costs. In 90% of the cases the mediation process is successful – probably because at the outset it’s made clear that no party will be 100% satisfied with the outcome, but it’s still better than a lawsuit.”
The establishment of Agri-Hub has been of fundamental importance to the industry, providing intake and shipping figures and guiding marketing decisions.
Copyright theft increasing problem
Through the formalisation of Fruit South Africa, which brings together the various fruit producer associations, cross-cutting issues can be more effectively handled, Anton says; he was also elected president of the Southern Hemisphere Association of Fruit Exporters (SHAFFE) last year.
Internally such cross-cutting issues include the harbours and legislation, but outside the border increasingly also copyright theft of South African brands, which is, ironically, a sign of the good reputation of South African fruit, Anton says.
90% of FPEF's interns find full time employment
Transformation of the fruit industry – meaning greater economic participation for black citizens – has become another core function of FPEF, reflected by the appointment of a fulltime transformation manager.
“It’s important, however, to point out that as FPEF it’s not up to us to transform the industry, but we provide the tools and support to our members. Initially that mostly meant training, but along the way we’ve started focusing more on mentorships, internships and the establishment of black exporters,” Anton says.
“FPEF takes pride in the fact that 90% of these interns are employed full time after successful completion of their internship at FPEF members every year.”
The initial work for a comprehensive emerging exporter development programme was completed last year.
Anton has become well-known as the face of South African fruit. He is a former radio and television broadcaster with a postgraduate degree in geography and an MBA. During a varied career he has also been the CEO of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber, visiting fashion shows in Milan, Paris and Tokyo and teaching fashion design students about the use of ostrich leather.