Climate change is also a big factor when selecting a new variety

Times are changing in the fruit industry, it is no longer enough to plant a few apple varieties and send them to the UK or European market. As well as increasing European volumes and changes in consumer preference, the climate is also changing and fruit which grew well 20 years ago is not profitable any more. What are South Africa's well established companies doing to stay top their game in this changing environment? 

To stay on top of the supply and demand chain, Dutoit has extended their season by growing more stone fruit as well as traditional apples and pears.  


Tanith Freeman with Piet Bosman, Farm Manager at Excelsior Farm


This also led to the third season of the premium brand - Cherry Time. "The Cherry Time brand has established good traction in the market, which we are very happy with. Cherry Time fills a gap in the market before Chile arrives. With a combination of air and sea freight we supply cherries on a continual basis during the short season to selected customers," explains Tanith Freeman, Product Development Manager for Dutoit.

Popular ‘new’ fruits like avocados and pomegranates have been all the rage recently, but Dutoit have prioritised the development of quality produce that grows well traditionally in the areas in which they operate. Topfruit is the backbone of Dutoit Agri and although they have looked into other fruits they believe in sticking to the company’s core products.

"We’ve realised that the changing global apple markets and new varieties have added pressure to the traditional South African markets, but South Africa as an industry is moving to new exciting markets. In order to enter these markets adequately, we have to explore and develop various varieties. Challenges like the changing climate, shelf life and consumer preferences have to be considered before we plant commercial volumes of new varieties. It takes years of trials to confirm the new varieties’ full potential in our climate, which makes it a very long and intricate process, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten years. It can be tough picking the right one!" according to Tanith.

In order to compliment Dutoit Agri’s focus on new innovations, it has joined various partnerships with international companies like IFORED. Fifteen prominent fresh produce companies from 13 countries partnered with IFO (International Fruit Obtention) in France to form an international consortium for the testing, selecting and commercialisation of red flesh apples from the IFO breeding programme.

Dutoit Agri was the first South African international company to join IFORED SAS. The development of these unique cultivars is viewed by experts as one of the most important developments in decades. This range of cultivars differ in appearance and taste. They are harvested a few days before Gala, up until the harvesting of Fuji starts. The taste differs from sweet to a more balanced and somewhat spicy taste, and have either a yellow, orange, red or pink internal colour.

Another variety Dutoit has put a lot time and effort into is SweeTango®, the exclusive brand for a premium quality apple fruit owned by the University of Minnesota. To maintain high quality fruit standards, SweeTango® apples are only grown in the best growing sites and the best production practices are followed. Together with its South African partners, Tru-Cape and Fruitways, Dutoit has been granted the opportunity to evaluate this unique apple which ripens ahead of Gala. Because this variety typically ripens at the end of January, growers, retailers and consumers can enjoy SweeTango® apples while few new season premium apples are available.

One of longest partnerships Dutoit Agri has established is with French apple grower Pomanjou, who holds the marketing rights for the Honey Crisp variety. Dutoit Agri has been in partnership with Pomanjou for over 10 years and have exclusive growing and marketing rights for the Honey Crunch brand in South Africa. They export to Pomanjou and supply the brand on the local South African market.

Tough international partnerships play a big role in this approach, Dutoit Agri constantly takes part in and implements research initiatives locally. "Climate change is a big factor when selecting a new variety and the industry has put a lot of effort into studying climate change. While conducting our research we can see that the Western Cape will become warmer and drier with more erratic weather in future, while we have seen within the last 10 years there have been less chill hours."

To remain competitive as a company in the future, it is essential to make the right variety choices now as the investment in an orchard is for the next 20 years. 

"We pride ourselves on being dynamic and implementing innovative practices in order to produce, distribute and market more than 250 000 tons of quality produce every year.

"Dutoit Agri has been in the agricultural business for more than 120 years. Along the way, we have gained valuable experience, elevated quality levels, improved efficiency and expanded our vision. Such a rich, long history means that we are an established and stable company with a strong infrastructure, while remaining dynamic, adaptable and innovative in an ever changing fruit industry," concludes Tanith.

For more information: 
Tanith Freeman
Tel: + 27 23 312 3136

Publication date: 1/18/2017
Author: Nichola Watson