Kacem Bennani-Smires Delassus

Kacem Bennani-Smires, general manager of Moroccan exporter Delassus, has been in the fresh produce industry for over 25 years. Here, he reflects on his experience of the sector.

What is the most important thing you have learnt about the industry in the time you’ve been a part of it?

KBS: ‘Thank God! Here is October,’ is the most important phrase I hear from the Moroccan growers. It means that each season is the start of a new hope and that we learn to turn the page on the last one. Of course we must invest in the experience of the previous seasons, but hope is our medication against climate unpredictability, market instability, product availability and rural workforce precariousness.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

KBS: As president of my group, I enjoy the helicopter tour! Meaning to take time to back away from the day-to-day operations and take a broader look at where the group is. This is not always easy to do as days go by very quickly in our type of business, but I feel it is important to do so from time to time. Other than that, I must say what I enjoy most is the contact with people – both clients and growers.

What are the greatest challenges?

KBS: I almost laughed at this question! Ask any grower. We have to overcome all the production hurdles – coldwaves, heatwaves, too much or too little rain – before we actually put our products on the markets. Here we start toface all the challenges of other industries such as sales, payments, currency fluctuations and so on.

Who in the industry do you most admire or respect?

KBS: I obviously admire my father, who started Delassus Group in the 1960s. Besides him, I also admire the UK retailers’ professionalism. In all my years working as a grower and exporter, the relationship with them has always been challenging in terms of progressing standards. Before GlobalGAP, iso, brc and other certifications, we had technological visits ending with ‘action points’,which helped us plan ahead.

In a parallel life, in what career do you think you would find yourself?

KBS: For the past five years, I have started not a parallel life, but a parallel career, which is very important to me. In 2006, we launched Sanady Foundation. Sanady means ‘my support’ in Arabic. It is a csr programme aimed at after-school tutoring of our employees’ children. By doing so, we want to combat school failures and dropout rates, which are very real problems in Morocco.

After a couple of years it has developed into an important social enterprise. We opened the door to other companies who wanted to externalise their social responsibility by putting their employees’ children in our system. This year, more than 2,000 children benefit from our action and we are preparing to welcome 3,000 children next year.

Where do you see the industry moving in the future?

KBS: When I first learnt about GlobalGAP ten years ago, I was told something that stuck with me. It was about how the industry focus goes from phase to phase, starting with quantity searches, then quality and seasonality. This person predicted that the 2000s would be about food safety.

Today it is sustainable development but in a meaningful way that is not just ‘green-washing’. It’s about taking care of the people, of our environment, being aware of our carbon footprint and being responsible in the long term