Exchange rate volatility, rising energy, transport and labour costs, unseasonal weather and diseases are just some of the risks beyond the control of South Africaâ€™s fruit exporters, putting a premium on getting packaging right â€“ one key decision they can control that could be the difference between success and failure.
The consequence of poor packaging is particularly manifested in less developed countries where, according to the Packaging Council of South Africa (PACSA), up to 40% of all post-harvest produce is lost.
â€œGood quality corrugated boxes are of utmost importance to South Africaâ€™s fruit exporters,â€ says Ralph von Veh, MD of Mpact Corrugated, a division of Mpact, a leading southern African paper and plastics packaging group. â€œPackaging failures are impossible to correct, resulting in a huge cost to the farmer personally and possibly damaging a key sector of the economy.â€
He adds that well-packaged and presented fruit will always command a premium price.
According to the Citrus Growers Association, 70% of citrus grown in South Africa is exported. In 2011 this country ranked as the worldâ€™s third largest exporter of fresh citrus fruit by volume behind Spain and Turkey, and is ranked 13th in the world in terms of citrus production.
Given the complexities of the global fruit supply chain, packaging has had to evolve from a time when simple wooden boxes were used to transport fruit farming produce. Packaging companies today need to supply fruit farmers with high-quality products that can be customised for individual needs and support growing branding opportunities, as well as provide packaging that can withstand the rigours of the export process.
â€œSouth Africa is a significant producer and exporter of fruit and there are a multitude of factors to consider when packing for the fruit industry,â€ says von Veh.
Mpact has been producing quality corrugated packaging for over a hundred years and is the major supplier into the fruit export industry, with fruit being exported to destinations as far afield as the Far East and the USA.
â€œWe have invested significant resources in technology, plants, people and infrastructure in order to produce lighter, stronger, more innovative packaging which is not only better for handling purposes and driving efficiencies for the farmer, but also allows us to contain cost increases, ensuring we are constantly competitive,â€ says von Veh.
â€œDue to the expertise gained with South African exporters, our cartons and designs are also exported to countries like India and Brazil, which then package their fruit for export to Europe,â€ von Veh adds.
Packaging needs to have vertical strength when stacked for export to withstand up to 1500 kilograms on the bottom layer. The corrugated-based packaging also needs to be able to withstand up to six weeks under refrigeration for the export market.
â€œWe also have to take into account the different types of fruit packaged. Some fruit gives off moisture which affects the properties of the packaging,â€ says von Veh.
Not only is turnaround time important, but fruit can vary in size by up to 20% and farmers can also have up to five or six export ranges which require different carton sizes and brands.
â€œFruit farming is unpredictable in terms of when it is going to be ripe and picked,â€ says von Veh. â€œWe have to respond very quickly in supplying farmers with packaging at any given time when their harvest is ready.â€
â€œIndividual customisation is also important as fruit farmers need to be able to trust not only that the packaging is of good quality but is designed specifically for his or her fruit variation and market,â€ adds von Veh.
Finally, packaging has become an integral part of brand building, not merely an interim transport mechanism.
â€œFor the last twelve years Mpact has pioneered high-graphic print that supports brand and advertising templates for our customers,â€ says von Veh. â€œThe trend today in Europe is that the carton not only acts as a means of transport but must also be a point of sale display carton for consumers to select their fruit purchase from directly.â€
Mpactâ€™s corrugated division has invested in high-graphic printing machines that support up to six different colours and gives it the leading position in high-graphic printing on corrugated boxes.
Chloe Webb +27 (0) 11 214 2421/ +27 (0)83 305 0144
Deborah Chapman | Communications Manager, Mpact
+27 (0) 11 994 5500 / +27 (0)76 650 4155
Mpact is a leading southern African paper and plastics packaging group with revenues of R6.2bn in 2011. Mpact employs 3,700 people at 30 sites, of which 23 are manufacturing sites. Mpact earns approximately 10% of its sales outside of South Africa. It also has plants in Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.