Fresh produce leaders meet at PMA conference

Article from the Cold Link {Read this directly on Cold Link Africa}

By John Ackermann

Keeping pace with technological developments and supply chain efficiency improvements are key for industry role players to grow their market share, both regionally and globally. This formed part of Dr Malcolm Dodd’s message to delegates at the 2017 PMA conference.

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The main conference hall was filled to capacity on opening day.

Over 400 delegates (many of them key decision-makers) met at the 2017 Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Connections 2017 conference and exhibition held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 16 and 17 August.

On day one, PMA CEO Cathy Burns of the United States addressed the large assembly on trends around the world in the produce industry. On the second day, parallel sessions and workshops offered interaction among speakers and delegates.

Richard Owen, PMA vice-president of Business Development, and Lindie Stroebel, PMA general manager: southern Africa, both led discussion groups regarding the optimisation of the impact of a united global trade in fresh produce.

At a time when consumers’ awareness of quality is on the increase and nations are uniting to reduce food wastage, Ulli Gerntholtz, NSF technical services manager: Africa, drew startling attention to food fraud. “Food fraud is committed when food is deliberately placed on the market for financial gain with the intention of deceiving the customer,” said Gerntholtz. Statistics given by Gerntholtz demonstrated that the problem was widespread: across all foodstuffs, produce, fish, olive oil, liquor, and meat. The cost to organisations is estimated at R180bn per annum. The high cost of the ‘horsegate scandal’ in the UK, as well as South Africa’s own mincemeat mislabelling investigation by Prof. Louw Hoffman, were quoted as examples.


James Lonsdale, national fresh produce manager at Spar, was in agreement about consumer demands for quality, consistency in supply, and accountability. “There is so much technology available to retailers to understand consumer trends. Tracking consumer behaviour has made us aware that having fresh lettuce available 24/7 at all our stores is a big drawcard.”

In the same round-table discussion led by Johan van der Merwe of Landbou Weekblad, Louis de Kock of Wildeklawer Farming encouraged small-scale farmers to think laterally and make use of technological advancements. He also cautioned against investing in high technology if production is insufficient to fully utilise the equipment. Pooling the use of such equipment is often a viable option. De Kock was upbeat about the use of smart phones, which places small producers on par with large growers insofar as access to technology.

Benjie Meltzer of Aerobotics added to De Kock’s views with his update on the powerful ability of computers to assist small-scale farmers. Satellite images of farmland and surveillance by drones could prove invaluable in locating land available for further farming activities.

In his focus on the economics behind agriculture, Wessel Lemmer, senior agriculture economist of Absa, emphasised the importance of traceability to avoid potential financial losses. The ecological impact and measures to minimise pollution of the environment also need to be factored into the financial planning and management of every farming entity.


The workshop with a special focus on supply chain and logistics drew a large audience.

Andy Connell, A-bar-C Services director, was frank in his views on supply chain. To optimise returns, supply chains that connect producers to the retailer/consumer must keep pace with technological development and pursue sophistication.

Various tools in cold chain management are all available: digital devices that record temperature, humidity, shock, motion, power supply, and oxygen levels. Whatever is needed is available. Measured and stored data can be transmitted to wherever needed.

The same technology provides the importer or retailer with accurate and reliable traceability. If a problem is anticipated with a product condition, the importer/retailer can be forewarned and manage the sale to the benefit of all parties. To strengthen the fight against global warming, electronics software evaluates the carbon footprint of the supply chain from source to destination.

Connell is passionate about the exciting opportunities on the horizon: “Leave the flat-earth society and enter the round-world community — in other words, step beyond your comfort zone.” He also alleviated fears about the impact of irradiation on food safety. At the energies (below 10kGy) used in irradiation, there are no toxicological, microbiological, or nutritional problems.

Dr Johan van Deventer, managing director of Freshmark, did not give any false impressions about the many challenges in the supply chain to trade fresh produce in the rest of Africa. With 20 years of experience and 223 stores in African countries (outside South Africa), Van Deventer was confident that Africa is the place to be. “It is different, risky, full of unexpected surprises, can be costly, needs a special approach, and is very exciting. It certainly is not meant for the fainthearted.”

* Photos courtesy of PMA

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