Two of South Africa’s largest fresh produce companies are joining forces: the Unlimited Group and the Lona Group will have a combined export and import volume of more than 8 million cartons of fruit and vegetables and over 4,000 ha of fruit on owned, managed, or licensed farms.
“We’re excited about this tie-up because it ticks the boxes on so many levels. It is a case of 1+1=3,” says Spencer Johnson, Managing Director of the Lona Group. “There is a natural fit between UG’s summer fruit business and Lona’s citrus business. Combining our businesses means that economies of scale in each of our key fruit categories can be unlocked. We are aligned on our vertical integration. We run our considerable farming operations in citrus, mangoes, stone fruit, grapes, olives and vegetables fully aligned with our marketing (LonaFRESH, Icon Fruit, Yukon and Taste) and logistical divisions.”
“Combining our fruit IP portfolios across stone fruit, citrus and nuts will allow us to accelerate innovation, double down on technical support to our growers and, at the same time, allow us to take the long view,” says Hans Christiaan Muylaert-Gelein, Managing Director of the Unlimited Group. Unlimited Group is a producer, packer, processor, exporter and importer of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.
In these days of logistical uncertainty, the Unlimited Group stands to benefit from Lona’s deep capital investment in fruit packhouses, cold rooms and port facilities across the country. A taste of such collaboration can be found at the soon-to-be-opened Sawmill packhouse in Franschhoek, where 1mio cartons of stonefruit will be packed in summer and 1mio cartons of citrus will be packed in winter.
“Both Lona and the Unlimited Group have been around since the early days of deregulation, so we knew of each other,” says Muylaert-Gelein. “Both Spencer and myself are keen open-water swimmers and we’ve had many conversations about how a joint business would look. The more we talked about this, the more that narrative became compelling. When two Unlimited Group shareholders wished to exit, the opportunity came around to make this a reality.”
The strategy to develop dynamic export sales alongside a sustainable local business remains a cornerstone. Between Fruition, Riverside Orchards, Buffet Olives and FieldFresh, we will continue to service the top retailers in South Africa with a range of fresh fruit, dried mango, olives, as well as fresh and prepared vegetables.
“Having a bigger canvas will also allow us to run our ESG agenda more effectively. Lona has made great strides in transforming their business over the past decade and is now one of the few large-scale agricultural businesses with a Level 2 B-BBEE rating. Meanwhile, our Sustainability Unit will continue its work on Food Waste, Carbon, Water and Sustainable Packaging,” says Muylaert-Gelein.
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