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Cape Fruit Processors June 09 www. bus- ex. com 53 The fruit business is very seasonal, and the workforce can fluctuate between 600 and 1,300. " There is a lot of unemployment in South Africa at the moment," says Thalwitzer. " On the other hand, there is quite a big demand for skilled people. In order to fill that demand we have to take unemployed, unskilled people and train them in the juice business. If we're going to expand in the future, we're going to need these skilled people." It is, he adds, a specialised industry, and in- house training is the only way to be sure of instilling the culture and quality standards the customers rely on. " When you are exporting to countries like Japan, having best practices in place is very important, and that is especially so for a country like South Africa." Farming is a make- or- break issue in the South African fruit industry because there is over- capacity on the processing side. Cape Fruit Processors is fortunate in coming from a farming background, having its own farms supplemented by others owned by Rupert in the Malelane region and sound contractual arrangements with South Africa's largest grapefruit grower. " We have plenty of fruit in the Malelane area," Thalwitzer says, " but not far away at Nelspruit there's a shortage of lemons, so that factory is not up to capacity production right now." Cape Fruit Processors acquired Nelspruit in 2008, but as it is one of the oldest factories in the country, there are plans to move it to Hoedspruit where supplies are more dependable. To the south- west, the Paarl factory near Cape Town is amply supplied by Cape Fruit Processors' own apple orchards in the Western Cape. Further west at Kirkwood the company's newest facility, purpose- built in 2008, is well situated at the heart of one of the best citrus-producing areas. " I am not particularly worried about fruit in that area," Thalwitzer says with equanimity, adding that he is just about the only player that is equally strong in the citrus and deciduous sectors. Cape Fruit Processors has proved it can operate in a global market. The domestic scene is no less challenging, largely because of high local demand for fresh fruit, which South African citizens prefer above chocolate. " It's a very unstable situation, and I think in the next five years or so this whole thing will rapidly sort itself out. There's no way all the current processors can survive on the amount of fruit that is available," That's Max Thalwitzer's realistic assessment, but it's a situation where Cape Fruit Processors stands to benefit. - Editorial research by Jon Bradley leader in production standards, so any lapse in quality is never accepted, he says. " The great thing about our Japanese customers is that they give us a lot of help to improve our processes to be more efficient, make better product, and have less problems with claims." The adoption of tools like Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points ( HACCP) to forestall any problems elevate the group to global standards of excellence in the food industry. Probably for this reason, no other South African player has cracked the Japanese market. Cape Fruit Processors built up this business over more than 20 years from small quantities of IQF ( individually quick- frozen) citrus segments; since then it has grown to include concentrates and fruit pulp. Today, says Thalwitzer, the company enjoys the trust of these most demanding of customers, and there is no doubt that the rigour involved in meeting their demands has added to its strategic aims of achieving low cost through efficiency, running a lean company and forming long- term customer relationships. Management structures are kept to a minimum, he says, and to manage the spread- out facilities, Cape Fruit Processors has introduced state- of- the- art systems. " We had to invest in order to stay ahead. We have a very good IT backbone that enables us to see production figures from all the plants and manage them more efficiently." All the information is managed at the head office in Malelane, and the software has been custom made, he stresses. " It is tailor- made for the different plants- for example, the Paarl factory tends to ship its product in bulk, whereas the others tend to work with drums. They can't all use exactly the same system." Nevertheless the investment in IT has paid off in terms of cost. " We are very competitive in price," says Thalwitzer. " Our main management objective is to keep costs as low as possible. We keep our structures as small as possible, introduce efficiencies wherever we can, and rely a lot on our IT systems and process automation to enable us to do more with fewer people. We are not top- heavy with management. Apart from our offices at Malelane, most of our factories just have one person in charge and a few supervisors." " We had to invest in order to stay ahead. We have a very good IT backbone that enables us to see production figures from all the plants and manage them more efficiently"