Soil to Soul
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Comprising a passionate and energetic team of entrepreneurial partners and leaders across production, packing, logistics and marketing, The X Group’s company arms are pulling in the same direction as part of a more holistic strive for excellence.
Xcelsior Agri, Merite Packers, Xtreme International and Xperts Solutions make up the the four-strong squad tasked with achieving this aim for the sake of the South African citrus growers’ customers and stakeholders, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Cecilia Landman believes that the subsequent Group balance is perfectly assembled to fulfil these requirements.
“The X Group strives for excellence in all our dealings by relentlessly applying Kaizen, discipline and integrity,” she says. “Therefore, we focus on quality and good relationships with all our stakeholders by caring deeply, being open, showing respect and communicating clearly and promptly.
“Each Company has its own unique differentiator and it is very difficult to clone any competitors, so sometimes it is only a small angle to a different approach that makes you different.”
Such small angles include vertical integration emanating from its own production units and packing houses helping to better understand the value chain, and the monitoring of industry and consumer trends which also allows The X Group to remain flexible and adapt its offering where necessary. All of these facets are compounded by the business’s ultimate differentiator deriving from being an entrepreneurial family entity making waves on an international scale.
“We currently distribute to 27 countries worldwide from Europe, the Middle East, North America and the Far East including countries such as China, Japan and South Korea,” Landman continues. “We are not focusing on one specific market or client segment, rather we have a strategy to play wide, and this works for us for two main reasons; from a risk point of view in knowing that nothing is constant in this changing world, and in ensuring the best average return for our growers across all varieties, sizes and grades which can only be achieved by catering for all markets and clients in each region, from wholesale to retail.”
Quality is everything
Founded by Cecilia and Gert Landman in 2007, the citrus growing experience enjoyed by both has aided the Group’s rapid rise to prominence over the following decade, based on a knowledge not only of the products and wider market, but equally the best structure and ethos to instil within the organisation.
Getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats; building measurable systems with Kaizen at the core; analysing new industry trends and opportunities; and ingraining a strong sense of trust within business partnerships and the value chain have combined to ensure continuous improvement both internally and externally. And such development is an ongoing process too, with pivotal upgrades and enhancements being seen even in the past few months.
“We are focusing on delivering to the marketplace and specifically what they need in terms of quality,” Landman emphasises. “That means the correct class, sizes and timeframes for the market. Quality is everything!
“Business is about people and to align the right personalities according to market specifications, while we also make sure we know which markets have what requirements from a quality perspective; including logistics, documentation and protocols to ensure alignment with the products we deliver from specific growers and orchards.”
Attendance at numerous trade shows epitomises this adherence to the very latest requirements and preferences and are complemented by ongoing content research and market reviews to evaluate new opportunities and emerging markets.
Landman adds: “Above all, the best way to improve your brand is to listen to the client and then make sure you deliver the right product for them. We believe quality in the long run is everything and if you back that up with excellent service and a personal relationship you can succeed in the fruit industry.
“We value personal relationships and interests highly and we strive to understand our stakeholders’ position and circumstances to allow us to deliver a product that is 100 percent suitable for their organisation. This adds a tremendous amount of value to our relationships and differentiates us from other companies in our sector.”
The most critical element in achieving close, long-term relationships are the people employed by The X Group who have to convey the same principles and ethos laid out by Gert and Cecilia at the time of the organisation’s inception.
“Human resources is one of our key focus points,” the latter affirms. “We spend a lot of time and energy in recruiting and training the right people and we make use of tools like Career Direct to guide us during the recruiting process. Once in the team we also make use of programs like Enneagram to help us to work well together.”
Finding and retaining the best talent possible is likely to be a major challenge moving forward but is worth the time and effort in ensuring that all other industry headwinds can be negotiated in the future by the best minds the industry has to offer.
“As we are mainly in the citrus industry we keep on participating in markets that have recently opened for South Africa; such as South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, etc,” Landman explains.
This follows the previous three year slowdown in European business which has emphasised the need for a plan B, and is compounded by a host of domestic industry requirements including the transition from wholesale to retail from an international trade perspective, and the issue of land claims and repossessions in South Africa itself.
Huge capital investments into orchard expansion and enhanced administrative systems have aided the ability to roll with these punches and once again epitomise the Group’s overall aim to remain adaptable for the sake of even more concerted industry success in the future.
Landman concludes: “I feel privileged to be in the agriculture industry of South Africa. By running and operating a world-class organisation we can make a huge difference on ground level by supplying work to people and families and this contributes to a sustainable regional area and in contributing to a healthy family environment.
“We are in an ideal position to supply countries in both the northern and southern hemisphere, and this will lead to some great opportunities for growth in the agriculture sector in South Africa; with Africa a fast growing continent which will need more and more fresh fruit and vegetables.
“I am excited about the opportunities South Africa will give us in the near future.”