In three decades of hard work we never worked harder than the ten days we spent in South Africa when Danie Kievet arranged our schedule. He thought the Pundit should earn his keep so we were down in the hotel lobby at 5:00 AM each morning and after a whirlwind of speeches, meetings, tours, site visits and business breakfasts, lunches and dinners, we were dropped off well after midnight each night. Yet we have no complaints. We learned so much and met so many intriguing people, not least of all getting closer to Danie and his wife and family. So we were thrilled when Danie was willing to speak out on a controversial and serious issue at The Global Trade Symposium. We asked Liz O’Keefe to find out more. Liz is, an experienced journalist and conference coordinator, who recently joined our efforts to take all we have learned in producing the New York produce show and Conference and create a new world class event, The London Produce Show and Conference.
Proud owner of a 40 year career in fresh produce, South African-based Freshworld Danie Kieviet has nearly seen it all. After literally being brought up in the business on his family’s flower bulb, tomato and onion farm, the executive chairman has experienced most parts of the supply chain from wholesaling to packaging, supplying to retail. Ahead of his presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference, Kieviet tells Liz O’Keefe that a massive challenge looms for the global fresh produce industry
Q: What advice would you give someone going into the fresh produce industry today?
A: “It is all about the consumer and that’s where anyone’s focus in the industry, wherever you are placed, should be. The fresh produce business is a lot easier now compared to when I first started out. Information and technology are more readily available and handling and storage are much more advanced, but produce hasn’t grown wings. It still has to get from the produce to the end-consumer from one end of the world to the other in pristine condition.
“You have got to be hands-on with your business to be successful. Some people think that you can find all the answers on the Internet, but living it and mixing with your suppliers and customers in this fast-paced industry is the way to gain experience.”
Q: Kieviet set up his own company, South African citrus and table grapes exporter Freshworld, in 2001. The business has a particular focus on supplying the Far East/South East Asian marketplace, as well as supplying Japan, Korea, and the US under the Sunkist brand. We asked Kieviet, what made you branch out on your own?
A: “In 1989, I co-founded the company Freshmark that supplied fruit and vegetables to South African retailer Shoprite/Checkers, which I then sold to the retailer in 1996, remaining with the company as MD until 2000. It was a great achievement to join such a retailer and I learnt a tremendous amount, but I’d always dreamed of having my own business. In 2001, I suddenly got the urge to break out on my own again and follow my own goals without limitations.
“After a couple of years establishing Freshworld, Walmart approached me to open a global procurement food hub in South Africa. It was a fantastic opportunity and my children took care of Freshworld for two years while I completed it. I have managed to have my own company, yet still be involved in other businesses, so I have been very lucky and blessed that it all worked out well for me.”
Q: The company has just completed its 13th season. What changes have you seen in both your business and the fresh produce industry in that time?
A: “We have increased our product offer and broadened our customer base over the years. We started with citrus and then a couple of years later added table grapes, as well as a topfruit offer a little later than that. In recent years, we have also been exporting blueberries, mangoes and avocados.
“The business was a one-man show at first, with me and another employee and now we are a medium-sized business in the export industry. We are still focused on the strategic aims that I set out for myself initially; I wanted to do business as directly as possible with supermarkets and trade with the Far East, and they still make up the main core of the business.
“We acquired the Sunkist brand in 2003, almost as soon as the company started, and the brand has grown in value. I think the importance of one of the most recognised fresh produce brands in the world will only increase.
“There is a huge potential to grow it further in a counter-seasonal way to the US. Especially in the Far East/South East Asia, the Sunkist marque has really proved popular and been an effective way of singling out quality compared to other offers. Now we are going to grow it in the US counter-season, the brand will have a year-round offer and we’ll just build on its reputation.
“The fresh produce industry has exploded with lines in the last 10 years and it is more focused on customer appeal. It’s wonderful – new varieties are popping up like mushrooms and they all come with additional benefits, like improved taste and storage possibilities.”
Q: The title of your presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference is ‘Market Access: A major challenge in the global fruit trade’. Why did you choose this subject?
A: “I was asked what I thought the single biggest challenge to our industry was and, for me, this is encompassed in all the barriers that surround global trade. Of course, there are natural barriers to the trade, such as the timings and logistics involved in exporting fruit, which in itself causes quality-control problems and then pricing challenges. But it’s the uncontrollable elements, like restricted barriers to market through various different government controls – for whatever reasons: disease, quality or the issue of politics between nations. This is a massive worry, as these trading restriction incidents are definitely increasing.
“Global produce trade has grown in overall value from $67bn in 2001 to about $216bn now. Apart from 2009 when trade declined because of the economic crisis, we have experienced double-digit growth in produce globally each year. International fresh produce trade is very good for the consumer as there is more choice, as well as for national and international traders and for the producers. So, it is worthwhile for the global economy if the individual governments can get international produce trading straight. I think the solution is to try and eliminate the politics in the industry and go back to letting the consumer voice be heard, along with scientific backing for issues with pests and disease, etc. We need to get politics and producer-pressure groups out of the fray. There is too much at stake to not fight for this tooth and nail.”
Q: Is there enough collaboration throughout the supply chain globally? What would you like to see happen in the future?
A: “Fresh produce associations around the world, whether they be in Europe or the US, must aim to get further global trading straight and this needs to be done relentlessly. Producers must realize the opportunities that lie ahead of them if global trade increases; they can expand their production to then reach certain efficiencies and put more varieties on the market. Global trade is beneficial to all. We all need to sit down and work out how to get the message across that we need uninterrupted trade across the globe.”
It is a stark question. Who will stand up for the consumer? There are all kinds of fears and parochial interests that push for obstacles to free trade, but these can’t be countered just with exporters pushing self-interest, the only effective argument will be the moral case for what is good and just and right.
Come here Danie and get the case for putting the consumer first. You can sign up for The Global Trade Symposium here or register at the door.