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Service and innovation gearing fresh produce supply chains for global demand

In a rapidly changing environment, supply chains are becoming ever more critical – no less so for fresh produce. Agile innovation and customer service are the key to meeting these needs and ensuring nutrition for the world, writes Gerhard Stander, director: retail and agriculture at CHEP Sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa is the second-largest citrus exporter on earth and plays a major role in providing nutrition to the world.

The designers and managers of fresh produce supply-chain networks therefore have an enormous responsibility to balance the evolving needs of growers, retailers, and consumers and to ensure that these needs are met as requirements constantly change.

A pandemic, a trade dispute, or a change in tastes…there can be many reasons for shifts in demand. This is no less true for fresh produce, and it is therefore vital for supply-chain logistics companies to be agile, responsive, and constantly in touch with their customer’s business requirements.

Designers and managers of fresh produce supply-chain networks have an enormous responsibility to balance the evolving needs of all stakeholders to ensure that needs are met as requirements constantly change. Image credit: Creative Commons | Supplied

Designers and managers of fresh produce supply-chain networks have an enormous responsibility to balance the evolving needs of all stakeholders to ensure that needs are met as requirements constantly change. Image credit: Creative Commons | Supplied

CHEP, a global supply chain business, has been able to deliver this through deep relationships with produce growers – some of which go back decades. CHEP has a presence at fresh produce markets across the country and has even established on-site service centers at produce farms and packhouses.

Due to these relationships and a solid understanding of the produce industry itself, CHEP was immediately aware when demand for citrus produce began increasing in overseas markets.

With the growers, CHEP was able to be part of the decisions around planting, increasing supply and developing supply chain solutions. This has also required track-and-trace technology using bar-codes and sensors, to ensure platforms can be tracked and protected during harvesting.

This process began years ago, as growers began to expand the number of hectares under citrus and to increase yield. To coincide with this process, CHEP advised customers to move to more citrus-friendly bulk bin platforms to move their produce. CHEP made significant investments into their bulk-bin pool to accommodate the growth in the produce industry and to help their partners meet surging demand. Fortunately, the share-and-reuse model that CHEP follows – and which makes the company one of the world’s most sustainable logistics businesses – is agile by nature.

Platform pooling means that customers never have to own a pallet, bulk bin, or crate. All platforms are rented as required and returned to the pool to be repaired and cleaned when not in use. There are therefore no empty transport miles, and the number of bulk bins can be augmented from the pool as required. Produce is a seasonal business by nature. CHEP’s flexibility and the platform-pooling model allow­­ platform requirements to be adjusted over the course the year.

With South African citrus exports being so globally significant, the citrus industry is a major part of the CHEP agriculture business. CHEP has invested significantly in keeping up with the growth of the industry. From the moment when growers began planting new citrus trees several years ago, CHEP has been part of this industry expansion.

Demand for CHEP platforms is projected to double within four years. Given the track-and-trace capabilities, there are enormous opportunities for digitising entire supply chains and giving customers full visibility of their product from farm to fork. The citrus industry has come a long way in this regard, in line with the latest requirements from overseas supermarkets, and CHEP has been there to support them, every step of the way.

Helping to grow the citrus industry has taken a combination of technology and relationships. The relationships have given CHEP insight into trends within the industry, which has empowered the company to deploy the right technology to help align with those trends. CHEP looks forward to using this formula to continue supporting the growth of one of South Africa’s most lucrative and promising export industries.