Ideafruit is a grower and exporter of topfruit with operations situated in the Western Cape, South Africa and international offices in the UK and Singapore. The UK office markets Ideafruits’ own production into UK and European markets, while working with other grower partners around the world to supplement customer requirements. Ideafruit UK Ltd is also Organic accredited.
“The fruit growing season in South Africa has been very positive,” said Marinus Van Der Merwe, Group Product Director. “We are coming out of a few years of drought that was particularly bad in 2017/18 and both volume and quality were under pressure. We are currently experiencing normal weather patterns and irrigation resources are at promising levels.”
The official estimates are that apple and pear volumes from South Africa will be up on last season. These are of course subject to adjustment as the season progresses. Marinus expects that the final export volumes may be higher in most varieties.
“There were some production areas damaged by hailstorms and early frost, but for most of the regions the early part of the crop is looking good and pack-outs are very positive.”
Ideafruit is fully integrated into the pome fruit value chain. It has its own orchard base and pack and market fruit from other third-party growers as well.
“We grow and procure fruit of desired quality and quantity in a sustainable manner. This year we are fortunate to have a good crop. That said we rely on Mother Nature and a lot can still happen. Packed fruits are tailored to each individual market according to client requirements and specification.”
The topfruit season in South Africa is running around 7-14 days later than normal, on some varieties even later. Although some of the initial planning was impacted by this shift, Marinus said that it is not necessarily a bad thing as it has given industry more time to deal with some of the issues caused by Covid restrictions earlier in January.
Summer pears are already in transit and they are now entering the bulk of the crop with Packham’s Triumph and Abate Fetel that are being harvested. Royal Gala strains and Early Golden Delicious are currently the main focus.
“The levels of apple stock from British growers is difficult to judge. Some smaller growers will be out of product by April while other, bigger growers can run until June,” explains David Peachey, Managing Director Ideafruit UK Ltd. We supply mainly retailers and have programs to supply the fruit on request.”
“We work closely with our partners and growers to ensure the long-term sustainability of all our businesses. By establishing what price our growers need to sustain production and what prices are in the markets we are able to give an end selling price that makes commercial sense for all parties involved. We do this by keeping our costs as low as possible and having the leanest supply chain we can without compromising on service.”
“Brexit has not really been an issue for us as we ship directly into the UK from South Africa and we have always required the correct import documents. We always adhere to the highest protocol in terms of food safety compliance and quality so we can supply all market segments.
“The biggest challenge currently are delays at the UK ports which have down scaled staff levels because of the pandemic. This is unpredictable and adds extra costs. Planning from orchard to retail shelf is now more import than it has ever been,” said David.
“One disadvantage of Brexit is that in the past if you needed a couple of extra containers of fruit you could normally get them sent over from The Netherlands, but now there is duty to be paid on these imports and all the extra paperwork,” adds Steven Manson, Commercial Director at Ideafruit UK.
“When the UK first went into lockdown there was a shift from frequent shopping to weekly shopping, shopping online and click & collect. People were looking for fruit with longer shelf life which increased demand for top fruit and lessened demand for pre-prepared food or short shelf life products. Pack formats have stayed largely the same though.”
As for packaging, the industry is under pressure to lower the use of plastic and the amount of food waste, which is a good thing. These two principles do not always go hand in hand.
“Retailers have tried to sell loose apples, but what happens is that consumers will come along and pick up the fruit, put it down again and it gets bruised leading to much more waste. Packaging can be reduced but it must also be completely recyclable.
“There are people working on this and when fully recyclable / compostable packaging becomes available it will be embraced by producers and their partners. This is just part of a much larger worldwide over-reliance on plastic use,” said David.