Investing in knowledge

We all know the Shoprite/Checkers stores, but how many people outside the fresh produce trade know of Freshmark, the company that distributes their fresh produce throughout South Africa and into Africa?

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I recently attended a two-day post-harvest workshop for fresh produce buyers and farmers in Malelane, Mpumalanga, hosted by Freshmark. Of the 46 people present, more than 30 were farmers. This was impressive and showed a commitment, not only to their suppliers, but also to upgrading their own standards. When you’re handling in excess of R3 billion worth of fresh produce every year, as Freshmark does, it’s very important to find ways to reduce losses through poor storage and bad handling.

On the farm
Freshmark knows it all starts on the farm, hence this valuable post-harvest ripening, handling and storage workshop. In fact, by including buyers it was actually addressing two vital ‘links’ in its supply chain. When viewed from a national, or even international, perspective, post-harvest losses in fresh produce are startling.

Thrown away
According to Prof Charles Whitehead, head of botany at the University of Johannesburg, who conducted the Malelane workshop, the figure varies from country to country, but up to 25% of all harvested fresh produce is thrown away because of bad handling or incorrect storage and ripening. I don’t know what Freshmark’s losses are, but the huge volumes it handles over such a wide distribution network throughout Southern Africa must present many challenges other companies don’t have. But the fact that it addresses this through workshops of this kind is commendable, and should be part of every fresh produce company’s programme.

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Bottom line
What also impressed me was that delegates from Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia were there as well. This underscores Freshmark’s regional commitment. Understandably, Freshmark wants to improve its bottom line, but it also knows that making that bottom line look better means investing in its clients. This workshop was no PR exercise designed to dazzle, but a serious two days of work which will bear fruit – forgive the pun – in years to come.

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.