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Ed Leahy

BY ED LEAHY

Fresh produce pioneer Jacques Onona passes away

Onona drastically cut import times to Britain heading up a successful company during a period of great change in the industry

Fresh produce pioneer Jacques Onona passes away

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Jacques Onona, a pioneering importer of fruit and vegetables, has died aged 82 after an illustrious career in fresh produce.

Onona spent over five decades establishing supply chains to Britain and around Europe, as well as advocating for free trade as a member of several trade bodies, during which time the industry underwent huge changes.

Having witnessed Britain’s entry to the European Union, and the revolution of Britain’s supermarket industry in the 1970s into including more fresh produce, Onona successfully managed these developments to create a multi-million pound company, Jacques Onona Ltd.

Always keen to give back to the industry, Onona was elected chairman of Fruit Importers’ Association in 1973, and was also the UK delegate for the industry in Brussels for 30 years, between 1974 to 2004.

In 1988, he was elected as president of Eucofel for two years, and then re-elected two years later, later receiving the Order of Merit by the French government for his services to the European trade.

Having spent his childhood in Casablanca, Onona said he set his sights on moving to the UK when he was just 12 years old because he loved the language.

His first job in the fresh produce industry was at L Barber Ltd exporting citrus and potatoes from Morocco. By 24 he had moved to London and had become managing director of the company.

Under his helm the business rapidly expanded into shipping, insurance and chartering, before he left to start his own company, Jacques Onona Ltd in 1971.

With his experience, Onona cut the time it took to import citrus from Spain from seven days to 54 hours after setting up a direct line between northern Spain and Portsmouth, instead of shipping from Valencia.

One of the first major changes Onona experienced was Britain’s entry to the EU Common Market in 1973, whereby he quickly established the company as a specialist in French produce imports to Britain, achieving 10 per cent market share of French apple imports. Jacques Onona Ltd also became major exporters of French produce around Europe.

Another overhaul came in the massive increase of fresh produce sold by supermarkets during the 1970s, with Onona going on to supply Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Safeway as well as wholesalers.

His business reached £24 million a year turnover in 1992 before he accepted an offer to become part of the Albert Fisher Group.

In later years Onona kept up his international character exporting German potatoes and French apples to Russia and Israel, as well as breeding Israeli potato varieties to export to Europe. He was also a member of the livery company The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers.

Onona’s dedication and committment to the industry were recognised in 2008 when he won the Re:Fresh Florette Lifetime Achievement Award. On receving the accolade Onona said: “I have tried to give back all I could to the industry, and insisted it was always at my own expense.”

Onona, who died on 26 July 2018, is survived by his wife Nanou, and three daughters.

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