“We’re in the music business now,” quipped Roelf Pienaar, managing director of Tru-Cape at the release of their song ‘Take-aways from nature’, performed by Sunset Sweatshop and written by Gian Groen. South Africa’s largest apple and pear exporter reached 2.1 million consumers through social media platforms like TikTok in a concerted effort to connect with young consumers.
The company has had a record year, exporting close to 18 million cartons or 600,000 bins.
Bulk of Tru-Cape volumes sold on African continent
“Africa is about 23% of our export basket, as well as the 33% for the local market, it makes up close to half of our volume that is sold in Africa and that’s something we’re really proud of,” Conrad Fick, Tru-Cape, marketing director, remarked.
Tru-Cape’s apples (and increasingly pears) go into every single African country with the exception of Rwanda and Morocco.
Golden Delicious makes up a quarter of Tru-Cape’s apple portfolio, and 80% of their Golden Delicious apples go to Africa, Nigeria in particular.
Topred is the other standby variety for West Africa.
The trick is finding the right receivers to mitigate the credit risk, Pienaar remarked, adding that regular visits and spending time in African markets are non-negotiable for successful trade.
Europe becoming an increasingly important apple market
Trade with the UK was slightly down during the past season (but always an important market) while the Middle East, Russia and Canada were steady markets. The Far East experienced a small drop in their export volumes, related to challenges in the market and logistics.
“We’ve done well to establish our brand in the Far and the Middle East. We’ve seen good growth in markets like China and Vietnam.”
A few markets like pears to China and apples to Thailand are on the horizon.
“Europe was the surprise package for us this season. Last year was tough on apples but this year we see, on both pears and apples, our market share increasing in Europe. Europe is becoming an important apple market for us."
Global footprint allows for a plan B
“Logistics was a real challenge this year with shipping delays, increases in shipping costs and that’s going to be with us for the foreseeable future,” said Pienaar. “When I talk about logistics I’m referring to the availability of equipment, ships bypassing, say, Cape Town port, or just the excessive cost of moving volume into certain ports.”
He continues: “Covid played a huge role on Packham’s pears, for example. We have good retail programmes for specifically Packham’s into Hong Kong but the market struggles and there were challenges related to Covid and logistics as well, so we were able to divert them to Africa and Russia.”
There was a time during the past season when Royal Gala consignments took more than 100 days to be shipped to Bangladesh due to logistics, Pienaar said, but Tru-Cape’s global footprint helps them find alternative homes for their fruit.
“We’re bracing ourselves for a difficult year in logistics.”
Rising inflation worldwide
The strengthening of the Rand has reduced export earnings, but it does ease the input cost component. “We want a stable Rand, we don’t necessarily want a weak Rand. A lot of our inputs are Dollar-denominated. Exchange rate fluctuations were challenging.”
Economic pressures, consumers want value for money. “Inflation is creeping up on production and packaging costs globally.” Pienaar believes it will be a talking point to watch next year.
“Consolidation will be another focus. There is going to be more focus in the agricultural space where big agricultural companies will work together to get fruit out to the market.”
Tru-Cape is a grower-owned organisation and holds 28% market share on South African apple exports and 22% market share on pears.
Within the group there are more than 9,000 employees. More than 7,000 hectares of orchards have been planted, of which a quarter are newly established.