Evolving from the Core
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
In a market that is constantly evolving, Fruitways stands apart from the rest with its core values of integrity, fairness, trust and respect. From humble beginnings in 1930, the Company now specialises in growing, packing and marketing apples and pears to retailers and wholesalers across the globe.
Since inception, Fruitways has found countless ways to grow with a particular focus on removing extra links in the marketing chain, in order to get closer to its customers, retailers and buyers of fruit.
“It was always about unlocking value, obviously as you go through the chain to stay competitive and stay abreast of the competition, you always have to be innovative. I think that’s really integral in terms of the business itself; innovation and looking for the next solution has always been part of the DNA of the business,” comments Stefan Conradie, Commercial Director of Fruitways.
Conradie adds: “I think that with craving knowledge, Alistair Moodie was the main driver of that and is the main shareholder today; he has always been the most curious with how to unlock the whole value chain and really to understand the value chain and what the customer really wants.”
Fruitways has matured from a family run business, to a Company which is in the corporate arena, with the key to its success being the ability to maintain a positive personal element, so that people feel the Company does care about both its produce and customers. For this Company it isn’t about being a machine for shareholders to churn out money, it’s about being the first port of call for suppliers and customers in the industry.
“We’ve got an internal saying that we like ‘doing difficult’; that’s what differentiates us, we see it as a challenge not a problem and it’s really about having that culture of being solution driven and looking every day to improve. That’s really the ethos of the business and the culture that we would like to have throughout the business,” Conradie emphasises.
Innovative thinking is at the core of Fruitways’ Company ethos, and is a key attribute in the daily tussle to stay ahead of the competition. From this platform, the Company has gradually evolved through the production of a variety of products. Before reaching the point it is at today as apple and pear specialists, Fruitways dabbled in citrus, blueberries and wine grapes. And despite achieving great levels of success in all of its ventures, the Company decided to specialise in order to be on top of its game in its primary chosen product markets.
On the farms it’s about staying relevant in terms of the varieties that Fruitways provides. “Apples can be seen as a commodity, which I don’t think will change,” assures Conradie. “It is really about how we present the product to the consumer so that they see it as a higher value product.”
Many of the core varieties will stay relevant for a long time, as advancements move a lot slower than in stone fruits and grapes; where new varieties will come along almost every two weeks. In apples it’s really about improving the existing strains, for example through improving the colour, taste and planting them in the right areas so that you get the best possible product out to the consumer.
Fruitways takes its development process very seriously to this end, investing great lengths of time into creating a product that is fit for main line production.
“We’ve signed a deal on a variety that comes from the USA called Evercrisp, but that will only be fully commercialised probably about 10 years from now; to give you an idea of how long it takes to bring in a new variety that’s relevant, and that we think is good enough to really become mainline and to introduce to major supermarkets around the world,” explains Conradie.
Home grown talent
As a family run venture at its heart, Fruitways invests a lot of energy into developing homegrown, internally promoted talent. It is important to the Company to identify the talent that it has access to on the farms and to try and expose them to other opportunities available to them in the business; whether it’s in the packing or marketing strands of the business.
“We’ve got quite a few examples of own-grown talent that’s come through the business and now have become leaders in the business. So that’s definitely the focus; we don’t want to lessen our workforce but as the Company grows we need to become more efficient and productive,” adds Conradie.
A lot of time, effort and also money goes into skill development, which in turn supports another key facet of its continuous improvement drive from a technology perspective. With more complex and modern technologies on board, the levels of training handed to employees becomes equally imperative to align all aspects of the Fruitways growth trajectory.
“In the past 20 years, with technology in this industry really evolving, it’s been a challenge to make sure that our human workforce evolves with the demand of new technology. However, I think we’ve been quite successful in doing that and will continue to work towards cohesion between the two in the future,” concludes Conradie.