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Citrus start gives a good feeling

From the vantage point of 32 years in the citrus industry, Joseph Raspel, chief operational officer at Unipack Fruit ("Unipack") in Ashton, says the new citrus season is giving him a good feeling.

"I'm optimistic about the year ahead. It's a clean year with good eating quality, which is usual for us, but in particular also with good external quality that's giving us little class 2 fruit," Raspel notes.

"We're seeing very few wind marks and packouts are very high, around 90%."

They're 30% through packing Satsumas (a waning category; they're only packing 1,300 crates this year). They've identified lemon orchards to pick but holding off while fruit dry off after this weekend's good rain.

By week 18, 600 packhouse staff will be packing citrus sorted on 22 lanes altogether. On the farms of Unipack's two owners, Stephan Bruwer and George Hall, most of the fruit is grown. George Hall's family was among the first to plant soft citrus in the Western Cape, a well-considered decision as it turns out. Soft citrus accounts for 70% of their portfolio today.

Under the brand name of Cape Gold and Mandarinman their soft citrus (clementines and mandarins) are sold in the United States, UK, Europe and the rest of the world by Unipack's marketing arm, Dibanisa Fruit - situated in South Africa, the Netherlands and the United States.

In Europe the Naartjie Man brand is establishing itself, a name which is well-received among their Dutch and Belgian retail buyers who might not be familiar with the Afrikaans word 'naartjie' but they know they can trust it to mean excellent soft citrus, he says.

Locally, Botswana retailer Choppies takes their Naartjie Man fruit up into Gauteng and over the border into Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

Seedless lemons
In the USA, their fruit goes into mainstream programmes with top-tier retailers through the Peelz brand.

One of the largest seedless lemon packhouses in the country, they'll start harvesting and packing lemons by week 15, running until week 36.

Right: The CapeGold brand represents a slice of lemon

"We planted the 2PH cultivar before licenses were awarded. It's all marketed under CapeGold seedless lemons."

He remarks that seedless lemons amount to only about 6% of South Africa's production but everyone's looking for seedless lemons.

"We're also very well-positioned in UK retail with seedless lemons."

Strong plum season
"We're the second largest plum packhouse in the country, packing 13,000 crates of plums this past season. By the end of the week we'll probably take the last of our plum pallets from cooling."

Packing 26 varieties of stonefruit, among them many interspecific plums, most of the volume is grown only 5 kilometres away in Bruwer's orchards.

Raspel remarks that stonefruit today constitutes approximately 10% of the business at Unipack. A large percentage of their plums is still underway to the international markets.

"Your first arrivals give you an idea of what your year will be like, and we haven't changed anything to what we've been doing, so there should be good arrivals until the end."

South African plums, he says, have gained popularity for its great eating quality.

The packhouse is active for eleven months of the year, keeping a skilled staff employed throughout the year. It saves them hugely on retraining of personnel and helps them to retain and grow talent.

"We've been following our own path, and we have the depth of experience to be able to do it directly and for ourselves. We try and stay out of the mainstream."

For more information:
Joseph Raspel
Unipack Fruit
Tel: +27 23 6151290