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South African niche veg exporter opens a Kenyan office for basic veg & herb supply

"Covid-19 has caused us to look at the future challenges from a completely different perspective and plan our way forward accordingly”

For many years Afrex South Africa has specialized in marketing niche and high value products to the food service industry but the Corona crisis has changed that: since April 2020, they have begun marketing more basic products that are used in the food service industry, like fresh cut herbs, avocados, beans, broccoli and chillies.

“Our usual products like baby vegetables, edible flowers, edible leaves, and micro greens needed to be put on hold, and only time and patience would bring these products back to the market,” says Afrex director John Kowarsky.

“Combined with our logistics expertise, complete with a pack house in the cargo section of the of OR Tambo Airport has allowed us to successfully become one of the major edible flower, baby vegetable and micro herb exporters from South Africa, but the Covid-19 lockdown plunged us into one of the most difficult periods we ever encountered.”

He continues: “With the lockdown commencing at the end of March 2020, and the suspension of all passenger flights to and from South Africa, Afrex found herself completely isolated without being able to export a single kilogram of any of her products. Extreme austerity measures were implemented immediately, and where necessary Afrex supported all her very loyal workers so that they would survive the lockdown and be ready to resume work when the flights were renewed.”

Afrex pallets

Etienne Taitz, Afrex managing director, adds: “Thanks to our very loyal customer base, Afrex has come out of the crisis much stronger than prior to the crisis! Covid-19 has caused us to look at the future challenges from a completely different perspective and plan our way forward accordingly.”

Furthermore, Etienne says: “Our greatest concern was that our growers, who needed the income from our exports, would not survive the sudden curtailing of procurement.”

He continues: “Within a couple of months certain airlines began flying once more but only with cargo! They offered a service to export, but stipulated large minimum quantities per air waybill, as the supply and demand worked in their favour. Extremely high air freight rates completely curtailed the possibility of exporting to many established markets like China and the USA. Our niche products suffered badly due to these new measures taken by the carriers.”

South African procurement strategy modified
“Fresh cut herbs were one of the more basic products that we felt would enable us to adapt to the new situation. Furthermore, heavy products and non-volumetric products were needed to be sold to adapt to the new logistic situation."

"Avocados by air became one of these products which enabled us to meet the airlines’ strict minimum quantity stipulations, and of course balanced out our exceptionally light and volumetric products like edible flowers.”

They have modified their procurement strategy in South Africa to bring them closer to the growers, with whom they have established longstanding relationships over many years of procuring products.

Growers such as Suntropica and Plantforum having an exclusive export relationship with Afrex. Suntropica Farm grows a large selection of edible flowers dedicated to Afrex customers in Europe and elsewhere.

Suntropica Farm in Midrand, Gauteng (all photos supplied by Afrex)

Kenya: new source of supply
“Our next decision was to look for another source of supply where we could supply an all year-round product like the fresh cut herbs, different types of beans, tender stem broccoli and other similar products like those we were exporting from South Africa."

"Kenya seemed to be the most suitable country for us to begin establishing ourselves as their logistic advantage offered a steady and a more consistent service than we experienced in South Africa. Jaganath Growers in Kenya has played a very important role in this development and a very special relationship has been established between the two companies.”

Right: basil growing in a Kenyan hothouse

Martin Kabaka has been appointed to be the Afrex Marketing Manager at Afrex Kenya, focusing on logistics and procurement. Afrex will be based at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport airport with an office in the cargo village.  “Over the last few months Martin has been continually active in overseeing the shipments exported from Kenya and over 30 tons of fresh cut herbs have arrived in different countries with great success and with tremendous customer satisfaction. The key to this success is due to having Martin’s team at the airport enabling us to actually see what we are procuring!”

Herbox reduces volumetrics and air freight costs

Cargolite®  Herbox, innovative packaging for herbs

Afrex has also adopted the use of the very new and innovative packaging concept for fresh cut herbs. The customer can choose which packaging to use (standard or the new), where the new packaging concept offers better ventilation in the logistic chain and can be cooled when in storage prior to departure, or prior to distribution. Every single carton on the pallet will be cooled equally and therefore improving the shelf life for the end customer.

Furthermore, the concept enables considerable savings in the weight per kilogram of the packaging materials and also reduces the volumetric factor, resulting in considerable savings on air freight.

After exporting over the last two months of fresh cut herbs from Kenya, Afrex compared numerous deliveries where within a single shipment, half was packed in traditional packaging and the other half in the Cargolite® Herbox, convincing them of the temperature advantage when using Cargolite®.

“We look forward to introducing our products to all our present customers and to new markets worldwide. Our range of products will offer both the more basic products, like fresh cut herbs, and other niche products grown both in South Africa and Kenya. Our niche selection of products will not only enhance the beauty and the taste derived from our products, but also offer our unlimited effort to supply the best product possible.”

Contact for further information:

John Kowarsky
[email protected]
Etienne Taitz
[email protected]