GEN tomato tomatoes

There is hardly a household in South Africa’s population of some 57m people who have not tasted a ZZ2 tomato, or have at least seen the famous brand in the country’s retail stores. Around 50 per cent of all tomatoes sold in South Africa originate from the group’s farms.

For a country normally exporting some 130m cartons of citrus, in excess of 60m cartons of table grapes, 50m cartons of pomefruit, 20m cartons of stonefruit and avocados and rising volumes of berries and cherries, it is surprising that tomatoes do not feature more strongly in the export portfolio. Rating 35th in the world in terms of tomato consumption, South African producers of tomatoes sell their produce either inside the country or in a few neighbouring nations.

The ZZ2 group is an impressive fruit and vegetable producer located in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Although it is known for its tomatoes, the group has also been involved in pomefruit exports for some years. It is, in export terms, also increasing its avocado production and in future will also be looking at blueberries to broaden its product range.

“As ZZ2 has been involved in the export business with our avocados and pomefruit for many years, the addition of any export crops is complementary to our current offering,” said Clive Garrett, the group’s marketing executive.

He explained that the group had decided to increase avocado production to meet international and local demand. “New markets are also opening where people are discovering avocados for the first time. ZZ2 has established a nursery so that we have access to sufficient plant material which is enabling us to rapidly expand our plantings. Joint ventures with land owners has also given us access to additional land.'

The South African avocado industry has been invigorated by increases in international demand, Garrett outlined. There are, however, many challenges that lie in wait. These include access to markets, tenure of land, and logistic networks, including roads, communications and efficiencies in ports that need to be addressed.

“South African producers of avocados currently only have access to the UK and European markets. We need a concerted effort from the government and industry to open new markets. The major growth in economies is coming from the East and we need access to these markets. Agriculture has the ability to create many jobs but to do so we will need access to new markets,” he said.

International markets now favour the Hass (dark skinned) variety while the local market still prefers greenskin avocados. “There has also been a move internationally to smaller sizes as generally avocados are sold per piece, and retailers are continuously looking for a favourable price point.”

In order to improve the offer to consumers there are a number of breeders around the world looking at different traits of new or improved varieties. “Some of the qualities being sought are taste, a good flesh to pip ratio, consistency of size, good yields and minimal internal discoloration,' Garrett explained. 'The fruit must also be able to travel well.”

Confidence levels in the industry are high, he confirmed, although there remained the nagging question of access to additional markets.

What is the secret to success with tomatoes in South Africa which ZZ2 is replicating in the avocado business and in other fruits?

“There is no magic in our success,' he added. 'It has taken hard work and dedication from a team of people at ZZ2. The consistency of supply and quality together with our wide distribution network and the support we have given the national fresh produce markets have enabled us to put our tomatoes in stores around the country. The customer as our 'Causa Finalis' has been central to the achievement.”