• 16 Nov
    From Sol to Soul

    From Sol to Soul

    One man’s vision to connect smallholder fruit farmers in Nicaragua with conscientious consumers in export markets worldwide, through organic and sustainably produced dried fruits, puree’s and fruit juices.

    Mango Farmer

    With virtually no job prospects and limited educational opportunities in rural areas and with almost half the population living on less than USD1.00 per day, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. Breaking the cycle of poverty is almost impossible for small farmers trying to simply exist let alone compete in the global market place.

    Will Burke, founder and CEO of Sol Organica, the parent company of Sol Simple and Burke Agro, had other ideas. There must be a way to bring economic and educational opportunities to marginalized communities while simultaneously protecting and utilizing the country’s natural resources?

    “I envisioned starting a fruit company, but not just any fruit company. I wanted to provide education and training to farmers, operate the plant using renewable energy, and support communities by employing single mothers.” Says Will.

    In 2007 Sol Simple was founded to provide the commercial face of Burke Agro’s dried and pureed tropical fruit products and juices business and to form the important bridge between global export markets and the Nicaraguan farmers.

    Here Will Burke talks to Fruit Juice Focus about how it all started and how his unique social enterprise model has helped provide market based solutions for poverty alleviation.

    Fruit Juice Focus (FJF): Can you tell us a bit about your personal background in the fruit industry and how you came to set up Sol Organica?

    Will Burke, Sol Organica (WB): I started out in education as a teacher and my first experience of Nicaragua was when I took up a teaching post here and it was here that I met my wife, also a teacher. After a couple of years working in Nicaragua and then back to the US for a spell at graduate school in Boulder, Colorado we ended up in Venezuela, teaching at the American embassy school. After six years experiencing what we felt was the deterioration of the country under Chavez we decided it was time to move on.

    We asked ourselves, do we want to continue in education? Or do we want to move back to Nicaragua where my in-laws were living and start up a social enterprise, giving back something to the country through education or a business?

    We brainstormed ideas and my wife reminded me of a moment when walking on the beach in Nicaragua a few years prior we saw thousands of mangos just rotting on the ground. We thought back to our days in Boulder, which is really the capital of natural organic food products in the US, where people were regularly paying USD15.00 per pound for organic dried mangos. And we thought how sad it was that these growers with all this product didn’t have a connection to that market and what a missed opportunity it was.

    We started researching organic dried mangos as an idea and reaching out to Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) and development agencies in Nicaragua, getting the lay of the land. I met a couple of growers, looked at my savings, drafted up a business plan and spoke to a couple of people in the market and thought ‘this idea might have some legs’. Long story short I invested, and we set up the company.

    We moved back to Nicaragua and started up a fruit drying plant to dry organic fruits. I identified and organised small growers, transitioning them from conventional farming to organic farming using my educational skills. I chose to work with single mothers which, as well as furthering gender equality, also worked from an educational viewpoint.  One of the best ways to give children the opportunity to go to school in third world countries is to ensure that their mothers are employed and that they have control of their income so that they would make sure that their children were educated.

    We introduced renewable energy into the process by importing solar collectors that can heat air through solar power which is part of the environmental impact we were looking to achieve. An additional impact was the transitioning of the small growers from conventional to organic farming. The idea was to educate them, improve their yield, give them a niche market where one didn’t exist for them before and improve their livelihoods as a result.

    So that was the DNA of the company and it started with dried fruit.

    Within two years we realised that there is more to the tropical fruit world than dried fruit, so I started investing a little bit in pulping equipment to get into the juice business. In our dried fruit operation, we were experiencing bottlenecks depending on how many dryers we could fit in the limited space we had. I realised we could process a lot more volume in this space by expanding into the juice business and simultaneously improve our social impact. And that’s how the business evolved into juice.

    FJF: What difficulties did you face in the early years of the business and how did you deal with them?

    WB: I didn’t meet with any real opposition, but we were certainly going against the grain in terms of working with organic production. When we started the plan was that the NGO’s, government institutions and development agencies would support me by helping to identify growers and work with us to provide training for them in the transition from conventional to organic farming. And initially they were committed to it. But at that time Nicaragua was going through a political upheaval with the arrival of the newly elected Sandinista government six months after we started the business. The result was that very quickly the development agencies were subject to a freeze on spending and the funding dried up. Any funding that remained was either focused on certain regions in the country or were not focused on organic agriculture and couldn’t help us out.

    So, we had to do it on our own, and I was out there in my truck identifying more and more growers and integrating them into our system and then working to transition them from conventional to organic farming. In time we were able to hire our first agronomist to take this on as his own project which was a big step forward.

    Another hurdle was the dried fruit market. The real issue was that we were selling dried fruit in bulk and with us being a small operation, the costs were too high, and we couldn’t compete on price

    To combat this, I decided to develop a brand, Sol Simple, that would become the face of our company positioning us a brand that whilst more expensive than other products, reflected our commitment to organic principles and our social and environmental impact. This brand was born from need but has worked incredibly well for us and today we remain the only company processing fruit and certainly the only company in organic fruit production in the country.

    Pitahaya Farmer_2

    FJF: Can you tell us more about your move into the fruit juice and puree market and the products you produce.

    WB: Our main focus is pitahaya puree or red dragon fruit puree – which is pitahaya with the ‘h’. Whereas pitaya without the ‘h’ is white pitaya. Pitahaya is indigenous to Nicaragua and Central America with Nicaragua being the largest pitahaya producer in the region and the largest organic producer in the world.  This is primarily due to the market that we have been able to develop with our partners, having planted and harvested more and more pitahaya over the years as a direct result of having been able to transition more and more growers into organic farming from conventional farming. So that is our number one product and we have been able to make a name for ourselves through that.

    Meanwhile we have been really focused on passion fruit juice and developing the value chain and finding key customers that want to partner with us and who are willing to stick to a fixed price for the long term in order to create market stability. This allows us to plan ahead on the production side and look to increase our customers’ use of passion fruit as they then have the ability to project years in advance what the ingredient cost will be. That means we will be able to grow organically with them and provide a sustainable market for our small growers. Everybody wins.

    And I think that needs to be the case for most fruits and in agriculture in general – especially when you are talking about small growers because if they don’t win nobody wins in the end. Small growers deserve a dignified livelihood and raw material prices need to provide that for them. And once they have that it provides for a stable market.

    FJF: How do you manage your collective of 700 or more small growers? How do you ensure they maintain the standards that you require and deliver the products on time?

    WB: We dedicate a good proportion of our budget to our field programme. We have nine agronomists out in the field on their motorcycles everyday giving workshops, doing farm visits and working on financial literacy. We go through everything from planting to pest and disease control, to how do you manage your farm as a business and we have developed a curriculum that underpins this.

    We have also designed systems for our 700 or so small growers organising them by collection centres within their communities. These collection centres create a central dry place where the grower can come when we schedule pick up to collect their harvest and provides the food safety and hygiene that we need.

    At each collection point there is a committee that is part of the internal control system. This committee will also act as the auditors for other collection points meaning that they will visit another community, going from farmer to farmer reviewing and auditing their paperwork. The committee for the collection point being audited will in turn audit another collection point in the same way and so it goes on. This means committees are not self-auditing but auditing other communities they don’t know which promotes integrity.

    The system works, and they respect it that way. With organic agriculture you need to ensure that no one is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. If one grower cheats, then everyone loses. They take it very seriously and we take it seriously. In addition, we are audited. it’s a ‘ride along audit’ from the local agricultural department. Every Monday a representative from the ministry of agriculture rides along with us visiting the farmers and checking their production registries.

    Pitahaya Farmer_3

    FJF: Do you still get involved on the ground with the social and environmental issues of the business and how is the company structured?

    WB: Culturally the Nicaraguans aren’t really used to a non-hierarchical system especially when they need to think on their feet. They prefer to talk to their supervisor and then that supervisor comes to talk with me so there is still an element of the hierarchy system even though we have been trying to get away from it.

    We are a company of 250 employees and we have had a board of directors since the onset of the company – it’s a three-member board and I am the president of the board and I am also CEO of the corporation.

    I am certainly still in weekly meetings and making decisions as needed but as we’ve grown I have been able to delegate quite a bit. It’s always important to hire people that are smarter and more agile than one’s self and I think we have done a good job in identifying people who want to be part of the mission and want to get out there and make a positive impact and be more comfortable with the responsibility they carry.

    FJF: How does your production and distribution work? What sort of infrastructure do you have in place?

    WB: We own all the infrastructure, all the packing materials – although sometimes we co pack for food service, retail packs, and for frozen products where typically our customers own the packing material and we warehouse it for them.

    But we own all the equipment and most of the packing material like drums along with the land, the offices, warehouses and the trucks. Sometimes we outsource refrigerated containers when we need more frozen storage. The plant has two lines. A juicing line and a puree line, with each of those lines having a capacity to produce a container every day and a half whether it’s mango puree, pitahaya puree, pineapple juice or passion fruit juice.

    FJF: How have your destination markets evolved over the years with regards sustainability and social impact issues?

    WB: Our main market is North America, but we have a deep connection with Europe.

    In the early days I wasn’t able to get much support from NGOs but the Dutch have a really good training programme through their agency CBI, which is a European export coaching programme. I enrolled in the three-year course and it proved to be a great success helping us form good contacts in the business. It has allowed me to look at Europe not only as a real sustainable market but also as an opportunity for us to diversify into and adapt to the different tastes and different requirements.

    Europe is more up to date when it comes to fair trade and that’s an opportunity for us. Americans are a lot less knowledgeable about what fair trade is and what it means and why it should be supported whereas Europeans are much more savvy.

    So that’s an opportunity in terms of niche markets for us because frankly we are more expensive than most of our competitors as we don’t necessarily deal in commodities. We offer a lot more added value. What we see in the US and in Europe especially, is that more and more buyers and the brands themselves and the bottlers, want to get closer to the source of supply for a lot of reasons. One is for food safety and transparency and traceability. The other is that more and more consumers want to know where their products are coming from. They want to know the source country, what kind of farmers are growing the fruit and what they are buying. And the brands are having to respond to that.

    There are many more brands now that have started out with a social mission and are growing incredibly fast but are finding that there is a lack of companies like Sol Simple that provide the authentic connection to a grower. We now have people seeking us out who are elated when they see that we provide sustainability reports and that we partner with local government institutions and NGO’s and can demonstrate that we are actively improving livelihoods. These brands need a sustainable source and to be able to report to their shareholders who want to see a positive social impact and a positive financial return on their investment.

    FJF: What do you see as the next phase in the Sol Organica story, and how do you see the future of the Nicaraguan fruit industry?

    WB: That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question!  It’s a mixture of many things. On the one hand it’s more of the same as we have an excellent model. We do want to diversify into other fruits and their respective purees and juices. Pitahaya is number one, and we believe passion fruit will be number two and we are heavy in mango – especially dried mango and primarily we’d like to develop those markets even more because there is still idle time on our equipment.

    As we grow we do see opportunities in Central America in natural beverages and we see opportunities in maybe providing add-on services like pre-blended products. We are already packing for food service and retail and are very good at that. We are also looking at Individually Quick Frozen (IQF). We’ve run trials on IQF and had positive responses but don’t own IQF equipment and would have to look at the investment costs for this. IQF is when you buy a bag of frozen blueberries in the supermarket they are IQF frozen blueberries. They are not frozen together in a big block whereas 20 years ago they were – nowadays they are individually frozen which improves the quality.

    Most importantly, we are actively working in regenerative agriculture, which focuses on soil health and carbon drawdown from the atmosphere.  It’s a non-politicized movement that everyone should get behind because it can be simply framed around improving water shed and soil management by planting more cover crops to increase top soil depths, rain water peculation, preserve fungi communities, and minimize soil runoff that we witness in the increasingly common heavy rains.  Whether organic or conventional, it improves yields and livelihoods as a result.

    Also, we would like to see more of a formal market for fruit in Nicaragua. One of the reasons that fruit in Nicaragua can be a little more expensive than fruit in neighbouring countries is because it is not industrialised yet. There is not enough consumption locally to create that formal market so what happens is we buy everything from our growers – grade A, B and C as there is not enough fruit planted. We are looking to get into organic fresh fruit exports because that way we can add more value for the grower by paying them more for the fresh quality fruit and paying them less than we currently pay for the second and thirds. It will help create the environment where our fruit juice processing company and our fruit juice is more competitive because the raw material is less expensive.

    FJF: How is the company performing financially?

    WB: This year we are projecting USD5million in revenue. We had some heavy rains which have affected some of the harvest which may result in us coming under that. We have a growth plan to hit USD20million in sales by the year 2020. And that’s not that far away!

    FJF: How do you see the future of the fruit juice industry?

    WB: It’s all about the Millennials! Those born between 1981 and the early 2000’s. People’s pallets are evolving. And through globalisation more and more products, especially exotics, are being made available. Social media is helping to spread the word about these different and interesting fruits and juice products like pitahaya, lychee, or soursop/graviola. More exotic unknown fruits have more opportunity today than they did five, ten years ago, because of those conditions and I think that the millennials play a good part in that they are always curious. They have sophisticated pallets they like to spend their money on food and on the experience. They have the social mindset so it is a really good opportunity for a company like ours and we are still trying to figure out how to engage more closely with that demographic because we think that they can really contribute to the social environmental and impact and help us grow our mission.


    By Caroline Calder Features
  • 16 Nov
    Help for generation stress. The beverage start-up with a global footprint set to relax and de-stress UK consumers

    Help for generation stress. The beverage start-up with a global footprint set to relax and de-stress UK consumers

    Tranquini, the premium natural relaxation drinks brand, is shaking up the UK beverage sector following its recent launch into the marketplace with its product range of global de-stress and active relaxation drinks. Entering the UK market at a time when its healthcare and wellbeing sector is currently valued at GBP180bn and forecasted to rapidly grow to GBP209bn in 2020, according to a recent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers, Tranquini is following the consumer trend which is leaning towards de-stress and relaxation beverages.

    With its select blend of extracts Tranquini’s non-drowsy relaxation beverages are claimed to be particularly effective when there is a need to de-stress and focus.

    The company believes that the products will resonate with the ‘millennial’ marketplace where Tranquini’s health-focused product development has really struck a chord with ‘the stressed generation’ driving the vast fortunes of the UK health and wellbeing sector.

    The products and brand have been developed by a team with over 200 years’ experience at well-known global soft-drinks organisations, including Ahmed Elafifi, the company’s FounderBefore launching Tranquini, Austrian-Egyptian Elafifi spent more than a decade at Red Bull, driving the company’s growth, managing multi-national campaigns and serving as a key member of its Executive Board. Elafifi completed the global roll out of the Red Bull business and brand in 58 countries, growing its turnover from Euro40m to Euro800m. Billed as Tranquini’s Chief Relaxation Officer Elafifi was inspired to create Tranquini by perceiving a change in the beverages industry and a movement away from regular sugary soft drinks.

    Here Ahmed Elafifi talks to Fruit Juice Focus about the development of the Tranquini brand and how he and his team believe that this new range of innovative drinks products will help with modern life stresses in a range of scenarios that require focus and a positive mindset.

    Fruit Juice Focus (FJF): Can you tell us a about your background in the drinks industry and how did the idea for the Tranquini brand and the relaxation drinks products come about?

     Ahmed profileAhmed Elafifi, Tranquini (AE): I started my career at Proctor & Gamble in Cairo 1991 followed by the Henkel group in 1992, responsible for brand management and sales. In the mid-nineties I moved to the beverages sector and to the Coca Cola company. In total I worked for more than eleven years in the Coke organisation. For the first part I was in central marketing, returning several years later to manage the very big and vibrant Coca Cola business in Poland where I was Chairman and Managing Director of the bottling plant managing over 3000 staff and revenues of Euro1bn. This was my last job before I founded Tranquini.

    In-between my time with Coca Cola I spent seven years as the board member of Red Bull, I was tasked with managing very big promotional campaigns in the fastest growing markets for Red Bull like Japan, Russia and India. It was a really great and inspiring seven years. During this time my obsession of setting up my own private venture started.

    For personal reasons I needed to stop the global travelling which was all part of the job with Red Bull at that time and settle down in one place for a while and gather my thoughts which is why I came back to Coca Cola Poland to manage the business there.

    During this second spell at Coke I was involved in a major restructuring project and at that time I thought that I am not at all convinced that this is what I want to be doing working on such a difficult project as the restructuring program that involved making people redundant. I was not alone in this and I discovered that there were many colleagues and friends who were feeling the same.  Then this whole notion of relax, and be positive started to take hold because we knew that relaxed people have the capacity to be positive and this results in good things happening to all of us. This led to the whole proposition of Tranquini and eventually I took the decision to quit after more than 25 years in a corporate career to start this venture and pursue this journey.

    This was four and a half years ago. The first two years were all about set up – the creation of the proposition. What took the longest time was the creation of the formula for the drinks. We needed to create a formula which was all about the natural ingredients which had the efficacy and the functionality to deliver what we were after and at the same time can meet regulatory approval globally. This took us around two years to create the right ingredients for the drink itself and then two and a half years ago – specifically May 2015 – we started selling. And today we have Tranquini on the shelf in 39 countries around the world including Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Monaco, Italy, Spain, Greece, South Africa, India, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.

    Nothing happens on its own. It is people that make things happen and I was very fortunate to be able to attract a team of very high-profile beverage professionals. When I started out in the beginning I always thought ‘who in their right mind would leave such a senior well paid job within the security of a major company and join such a venture as Tranquini?’ But what happened was I found a lot of people who were ready to do the jump, to create something new, and today we have a team of 13 individuals, including myself, who have 200 years of premium beverage lifestyle brand experience. Colleagues who are very much there with me on our journey to create this new category of relaxation drink and to create this new global brand with Tranquini.

    FJF: As the Founder of the company what different challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur working to establish a company and brand as opposed to those you encountered when working for the major drinks companies?

    AE: These big corporations have unbelievable resources, tools and systems. You have access to masses of consumer and market data at your fingertips, and the whole company knows how to use this data and get the maximum intelligence out of it. And then suddenly you find yourself rewinding back to a place where everything is a completely blank sheet of paper and that’s it.

    We were experiencing situations where someone would call me with an idea and the need to get some market analysis and I would say that’s great, but we don’t have any data, let’s create a report and start collecting this data now from scratch.

    One of the biggest and most important changes is that I am now having to think of the company in terms of cash flow  – it’s a completely different mind-set. I am always saying that we need lots of people from big corporations to join the company, but we have to educate them to think differently about the challenges we face in this start-up environment. It is almost like bringing in people who are football players and asking them to start playing tennis.

    FJF: You are obviously coping with the stress quite well – presumably in part thanks to drinking your own products to help maintain a relaxed environment! What is your view on stress in the world today and how are people coping?

    AE: Yes, exactly, but when you look at it the world today is so full of sources of stress. Stress on a macro level where you have the financial crisis and terrorism and there is also Trump. And on a micro level there is a lot of stress when it comes to family, work, relationships and money. Work is an unbelievable source of stress – tough negotiations, tough meetings and long hours. People when they want to make presentations or speeches they turn red, they start sweating and they get a knot in the stomach – these are symptoms of stress and anxiety attacks.

    People are trying to deal with or manage this stress by taking drugs, alcohol or comfort eating or extreme exercise and activities, but the fact is there is no convenient innocent alternative to these unhealthy remedies today. And this is exactly what we are trying to change with Tranquini . To create something which is made of tea and herbal extracts that are very well known to calm you and to help you deal with your own stress and help to affect positively your mood. This is something that is in a can or a bottle that you can pick up and drink just before a tough meeting or tough negotiation and you can get this very natural product help to deal with your anxiety and manage your stress and relaxation and positivity.

    FJF: You are positioning Tranquini in the growing healthcare and wellbeing sector. Do you see relaxation drinks as just another ‘fad’ amongst your target consumers or do you think it is here to stay?

    AE: This is a very important point. when you look at the type of stress that we are facing right now it is not something that is expected to go away. Not with the technology as it is today that is making everything even faster, and the need to be connected all the time.

    Even kids now –  the teenagers – they are posting that they are completely stressed about whether they are getting five ‘likes’ or 50 ‘likes’. They are stressed about their schooling. People at work are stressed. Driving too is very stressful where you need to relax otherwise it can lead to road rage. There are so many sources of stress around us and the need for relaxation is so big that I think that this is something that is not only here to stay but will increase over the coming years.

    When you look at other categories of beverages like energy drinks for example, they grew so fast at the end of the nineties/beginning of the two-thousands, engaging with the spirit of the times where people were saying ‘I want to work very hard, but I also want to play hard to compensate’. They were saying give me energy at any cost. The emergence of energy drinks was very much integral with that period and those drinks are still selling in large numbers today which is an indication of the potential growth for products like ours. Definitely not a ‘fad’.

    The new focus today for people around the world is the interest in managing stress and to have a more balanced life between work and play. it is a very important topic now. People are no longer motivated by the approach of ‘I have to work 50-80 hours per week and my whole life only revolves around this ‘, they also want to do their hobbies. They want to have their partners, they want to live their life outside of work.

    People are telling us now and telling the beverages sector overall that we need more natural, more healthy, less sugar based products and I think that by putting these two major insights together the need for relaxation and the need for natural and healthy drinks this is something that is here to stay. This is a trend that has attracted the consumer and the consumers are telling us they need this right now.

    FJF: Do you have any competitors in the market yet?  Companies looking to jump on the bandwagon having seen the success you are experiencing?

    AE: There are a couple of examples here and there, but they are very small instances and they are just in one or two spaces in a couple of countries around the world, and do not pose any major form of threat at present. Actually, competition is something that we are looking forward to. The more brands that launch in the relaxation drinks space the more we will get help to educate and grow the category, which will be good for everyone.

    FJF: Is the Tranquini brand making inroads into other countries and regions such as the US and continental Europe?

    AE: For North America we started in Canada and we are in final preparations for the launch in the US. In continental Europe we are already in many countries – in Germany we are now starting to gain traction, in the UK we are now spreading into Northern Ireland. We are in Spain and then also Poland and Greece, so we are more or less in 15 to 18 countries in Europe when you add in the current launches. We have a presence in the middle east in Egypt and Saudi, UAE Kuwait, Oman, South Africa and we are also in Asia in Hong Kong and Singapore and Indonesia. So, as you can see from the countries I have mentioned we are trying to increase our foothold in different geographies from where we will roll out the brand.

    FJF: Do you plan to launch more relaxation drinks products – particularly into the fruit juice sector?

    AE: At the moment the decision is to maximise the current products we have and to make sure that the consumers can reach out and find the best format and solution for their relaxation needs. We have the three offerings that fit well within the beverage sector today, namely the functional beverages in cans and the value added flavoured waters and still drinks in bottles. We will watch the space to see what the consumer trends are in the juice sector and how we might introduce new variations of our drinks to meet any developments.

    FJF: Can you tell us more about the ingredients used in the Tranquini drinks range?

    AE: The Tranquini drinks products are created in two parts. Firstly, there is the combination of the green tea extracts which contain Theanine which helps increase mental focus and concentration and this is blended with other natural products such as Chamomile, Lavender and Lemon Balm to create the base for the drink. Secondly, we add in the other elements that are made of natural fruit and vegetable juices to create the colours and flavours.

    We don’t need to use any preservatives as the cans are pasteurised and the bottles are asceptic. The sweeteners that we are using are sourced from natural fruit juice – in some cases they are made from fruit juice concentrate and in others it can be sourced from the sugar contained in the fruit. The level of sugar and sweeteners in these drinks compares well to other soft drinks which contain 14 grams per hundred millilitres whereas the Tranquini drinks have between two to five grams per hundred millilitres. A considerably lower level of calorie and sugar than other soft drinks.

    All the ranges we produce contain fruit juice elements in various guises such as mixed berries in both the Sparkling and Still drink varieties. The Water+Juice drink range includes Passion Fruit, Cherry and Apple Cherry.

    FJF: How is the company structured in terms of its management operation?  And how do your production and distribution arrangements work?

    AE: I have a management board made up of very high-level professionals all coming from the beverages industry from Coca Cola, Pepsi, Diageo, and other market leading companies and they are responsible for the marketing, sales and HR functions. The other partners are responsible for managing the business around the world.

    For Europe and for North America we use a canning operation based in Austria and a bottling plant in Italy. We are working with two exceptional partners here.  We also use production facilities based in India and Russia for distribution in their respective countries and a base in Singapore to supply the Asian region.

    FJF: Are you able to divulge any details on volumes sold, turnover?

    AE: Regretfully we cannot share this information with you, but we are off to a very good start in our first two and a half years, comparing well with other start-ups in beverages and we believe that we would be in the top range in terms of delivering good revenue numbers. Obviously, we are still a small venture and it is still early days but we are confident that we are on track both financially and organisationally.

    FJF: What is the next phase of development in the Tranquini story?

    AE: We have three very important directions we are spending the next three years working on. One is to oversee and complete the launch into almost forty countries, to expand into new countries and to consolidate our current position as the first global relaxation drink. The second part is to build an ‘innovation pipeline’ to help create this global brand we are aiming for. By this I mean we need to analyse in depth and work on products that will satisfy the very different geographic preferences, different tastes and different values across the global markets to get some really interesting ideas for new products. The third part is how to manage consumers’ perceptions of the relaxation lifestyle because when you see me drinking Tranquini, I want you to think that here is some guy who is living an active, positive and relaxed life style that you would like to join. For us this is an area where we are doing a lot of work to build the brand and the Tranquini lifestyle image.

    FJF: What future trends do predict for the fruit juice industry?

    AE: I am a very big believer in the fruit juice category. I have worked a great deal in this side of the business in my time especially with Coca Cola on fruit juices and a lot of big fruit juice brands. Consumers are telling us more and more now that they want to go into this ‘natural’ direction and I think there is nothing better than for the juice industry to address this need through their fruit juice products.

    The issue I think is that the fruit juice industry really needs to listen more to consumers. To listen to their concerns about healthy, less sugary drinks and to react to that with new and more health based products. Of course, there is the orange juice commodity and the apple juice commodity which will always continue to be very big, but I think that the fruit juices are in my view missing out on the potential when it comes to innovation and to add value. I believe that for the more modern and more consumer connecting brands there is a huge opportunity and in a couple of years this will be the way to bring real growth into the fruit juice market


    By Caroline Calder Features
  • 16 Nov
    The fruit juice industry convenes in Antwerp for another successful Summit

    The fruit juice industry convenes in Antwerp for another successful Summit

    For the fifth year running the Juice Summit brought together representatives of the global fruit juice industry in Antwerp, delivering yet another stimulating and topical conference.

    The Juice Summit has quickly built a reputation for providing the essential international forum for the juice industry to meet and discuss and learn about the issues of the day. The 2017 Summit was no exception. High calibre speakers from across the European and international fruit juice sector shared their vision of the future for the fruit juice industry, covering a wide range of topics of concern and interest to the delegates. These included a detailed session on the dynamics of the global fruit juice market, the effect of digitalisation on the industry and the ever-present topic of Brexit.

    Here Fruit Juice Focus takes a brief look at a selection of the sessions from the two days.

    Corporate social responsibility (CSR): an importers perspective  

    More and more companies across all industry sectors worldwide are introducing CSR strategies. The juice sector is no different and Don Giampetro, iTi Tropicals Vice President for innovation and quality presentation ran a session at the CSR stream at the Summit, taking the audience through the definition and history of CSR with examples and how iTi Tropicals were handling their CSR programme. Don kicked off with a definition of CSR: a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. The component parts of a CSR programme cover the environment, philanthropy, ethical labour practise and volunteering. Did the audience know that 91% of companies consider CSR when making purchasing decisions? Case studies revealed disturbing facts that highlight the need for a cogent CSR strategy in companies. For instance in one working environment case study employees were drinking unsanitary water, some were sexually harassed, some were earning 60% of the legal minimum wage and some were exposed to toxic pesticides. The list went on. The Washington Post had reported back in 2015 that ‘tethered monkeys were bred and trained – often with punishment to harvest coconuts’.

    Don explained how important it was that the ‘monkey’s harvesting coconuts’ piece from the Post was addressed by iTi Tropicals and he presented a copy of a statement from one of their processors that is sent to all customers as reassurance and proof that iTi’s processor base do not participate in such a practice. The iTi processor statement read: ‘To Whom It May Concern, We do hereby guarantee that The Sambu Group does not use any animals including monkeys in the harvesting of coconuts from its plantations for all coconut products we manufacture. All harvesting, planting and maintenance of the coconut plantations use human labour.’

    Mr Giampetro took us through iTi’s CSR commitments as an example of what needs to be done. This included education programmes for farmers to optimise agricultural practices, the creation and treatment of wastewater ponds, subsidised health plans, annual donations to local communities, help to build schools and provide educational equipment and funding life-saving medical treatments. iTi also required that its processors had, amongst other things, no child labour or slavery and no bribery and corruption and that they adhered to the iTi code of conduct.

    Social Audits are becoming more and more critical and important, Don added, in providing proof and details that proper practices are being implemented and documented.  The Social Audits show and prove that things are actually being done – it is not just talk.

    Juice Summit 2017 CSR Stream at Hilton Hotel in Antwerp. Photo: Erik Luntang

    Juice Summit 2017 CSR Stream at Hilton Hotel in Antwerp. Photo: Erik Luntang

     A history of success in supporting the Brazilian citrus growers (CSR) 

    Antonio Juliano Ayres, General Manager at Fundecitrus, reminded the audience just how large the Brazilian citrus industry is within global citrus production. There are 140 citrus producing countries in the world of which 70% of the total production is concentrated in China, Brazil, US and Mediterranean countries with Brazil being the main orange juice producer. Within Brazil, Sao Paulo state is the centre of OJ production and boasts the best soil, good ports and roads, history of research and industry knowledge. Orange juice yields have risen by over 200% in the past 25 years to 970 boxes/hectare, whilst the area of bearing groves per 1000 hectares had decreased by 50% in 20 years.

    Figures from Antonio demonstrated Brazil’s dominance as a global supplier in the orange juice business with Brazil’s share of the world’s total orange production standing at 38% and orange juice at 65%. The country took a 78% share of the world’s international trade in orange juice with domestic consumption at 4% of output compared with 96% for export. All for the period 2016/17.

    Fundecitrus is very active in helping growers in educating and preventing the spread of the HLB disease. Interesting comparisons were made between Sao Paulo and Florida in the US where there was only a 17% incidence of HLB infected trees in Sao Paulo compared with a 90% incidence in Florida. Fundecitrus attribute some of this success in containing the disease to the measures they have introduced including the ’10 commandments against HLB’ which include controlling the vector, eliminating symptomatic trees, new planting systems, working with neighbouring farmers and regional management control. Antonio wrapped up the session by acknowledging the success of Fundecitrus was down to their involvement with all areas of the community from government departments and research institutions to technicians, agronomists, consultants and the growers themselves.

    Dynamics of the global fruit juice market    

    Philip Coverdale of Global Data concentrated on two key areas of interest for the Summit audience, the global performance of juice and nectars and top trends impacting the industry. Global Data’s research revealed that in the EU fruit juices and nectars are declining – down 2.4% against 2015/16. But on the positive side leading brands are realigning themselves to maximise the opportunities that changing consumer trends are bringing to the market and they are concentrating on delivering real value growth. Performance during the period 2015/16 show that by volume chilled juices are on the rise, up 4.8%, and ambient juices are down 4.3%. During the same period not from concentrate volumes have risen by 5.3% with from concentrate falling by 4.9%. The research showed that the premium end of the price spectrum of the market is strongly on the increase with France and the UK showing cumulative annual growth rates (CAGR) increasing by 14.2% and 10.3% respectively for the 2014/16 period.

    Moving onto trends the report made some interesting observations. Using the terms raw, clean and pure on your packaging is a must if you want to appeal to consumers purchasing soft drinks in todays’ health conscious markets noted Philip. The term ‘cold’ also creates a feeling of a more natural product as in cold pressed juices. The research highlighted the fact that 76% of consumers were more likely to purchase drinks that were good for digestion and gut health. Alcohol avoidance amongst all age groups, barring the over 65’s, has led to increased demand for more adult soft drinks and marketers should be encouraged to promote their juices as a creditable alternative to alcohol. The session also touched on the point that the inclusion of spicy and savoury flavours in drinks would appeal to the health-conscious buyers especially those containing ginger, cinnamon or turmeric.

    Plant power is the buzz word these days with brands looking to maximise sales by aligning their products with plants and botanicals. In an ever more competitive market brands must capture the shopper’s attention within a split second both online and in the supermarkets with exceptional design and packaging.

    Adding value to juice through digitalisation  

    Tetra Pak’s Giulia Pelliccioni brought the Summit up to date on how digitalisation is adding value to the juice market. According to Giulia, the research firm Kantar TNS tells us that there are now 3.6 billion people worldwide who are deemed as being part of the connected community. Of these, 58% engage with brands online, 48% share opinions about brands and products on social media and 38% buy soft drinks online. Within this large group of connected consumers, “Leaders“ and “Super Leaders” are the most active on social media with the most influence and engagement with brands. It’s all about reaching and engaging with the ‘Leaders’ and ‘Super Leaders’ and brands recruiting these online influencers to promote or share their products are seeing increased web traffic, social media chatter, YouTube viewings and sales. Juices and beverages are the most searched for category when Super Leaders are interacting with food and drinks brands online. Giulia explained that for the consumer, the traditional customer journey is moving away from a linear model to a new ‘distributed value network’ where, because of social media and online interaction with the brand at every stage in the lifecycle, the consumer is central to all aspects of the route from raw materials through to consumption. Whereas before, products would not touch the consumer until marketing campaigns, product placement and subsequent consumption of the juice occurred.

    Packaging in the digital environment is playing an even more important role adding value at every touch-point with the consumer. From research – where a prospective purchaser views the products online and the visual presentation plays a key role in getting the order – to unwrapping and consumption, which can be an even more pleasurable experience when the packaging is innovative and reinforces the consumers view of themselves, through to sharing this satisfaction with online communities.

    Brexit impact   

    Francoise Sonneville from Rabobank’s Food and Agri Research team discussed the impact of Brexit on the food and drink and fruit juice industry concluding that although talks between the UK and the EU were well under way there were no obvious outcomes in view yet. It was felt that in the fruit juice sector, Brazilian orange juice and Chinese apple juice concentrate could end up being either winners or losers depending on the final terms agreed between the UK and these two countries, and Spanish orange juice and Polish apple juice may possibly face damaging tariffs. A final point concluded that possibly redesigning value chains and moving closer to the consumer could reduce the impact of Brexit on buyers and sellers.

    Organic 2017: from roots to suits

    This session from Ronald van Marlen of Toppas Organic Serbia looked at organic food sales in recent times. Research projected that, across selected European countries, organic foods distribution would grow by 10% each year for the next 10 years and the USDA reported that organic food sales has outpaced growth in organic farmland since the late 1990s. Ronald explained that against a backdrop of uncertainty and crisis in the world, changes in the way the organic movement and systems worked are in need of change to meet the demands of the changing social and environmental landscape.

    Ronald went through the four basic principles of organic, namely health, ecology, fairness and care and then illustrated the presentation with details of the top multinationals and their stance on organic and GMO. He looked at which companies own the organic space, distribution and retail and the structure of the seed industry. Ronald then did a profile analysis on who was buying organic – the ‘cultural creatives’, touching on their values such as the love of nature and a deep caring about its destruction, authenticity – ‘walking the talk’ and wanting social transformation and change. Ronald finished with some tips and tricks for the organic sector one of them being aware of developments in pesticides residue.

    The juice supply chain – orange  

    Larissa Popp Abrahão, International relations director of CitrusBR (the Brazilian Association of Citrus Exporters), outlined the association’s work and how its membership was primarily the three main citrus producers in Brazil, Citrosuco, Cutrale and LDC Juice (a Louis Dreyfus Company). Following recent research by CitrusBR, Larissa disclosed the latest figures on orange production across the citrus belt in Brazil which showed that although the crop was estimated to be bigger this season (2017/18) it was still not enough to recover four years of lower crops. The current crop should be in the region of 374 million boxes against 245 million boxes for 2016/17. Frozen Concentrate Orange Juice (FCOJ) production in Sao Paulo mirrored this increase with the figure of 1.176 million tonnes (66 brix) expected for 2017/18 – the highest since 2012/13 when production stood at 1.288 million tonnes. Conversely, 2017 saw a very low carry-in of just 107 000 tonnes against highs in 2013 of 766 000 tonnes. Expected carry-in for next season is expected to be in the region of 207 600 tonnes (estimated before the effects of hurricane Irma had been factored in).

    Larissa said that São Paulo is a hub for innovation naming it the Agtech Valley – the Silicon Valley for Agribusiness – with entrepreneurs in Brazil flocking to the area to create start-ups. There followed a review of the situation in Florida where production has decreased more than demand and is unlikely to recover in the mid-term due to hurricane Irma and the ongoing problems with greening disease. Larissa concluded that orange juice is a great product and still has a bright future thanks to companies and industry associations pulling together to face the challenges – the Fruit Juice Matters initiative being a case in point.

    Lemon Trends  

    Introducing his presentation on Lemon Trends, Santiago Martinez highlighted the fact that different customers were moving into lemon with lemon juice now being used more widely in a number of different ways. Citric acid was now being replaced by lemon juice as an acidifier in more and more products with the result that lemon juice is moving to the top of the ingredients list featuring on the front label. Examples of lemon juice being used as an acidifier is juice blended drinks where lemon juice concentrate is being used for tartness and in other products such as yoghurt. In non-alcoholic beverages lemon is considered to add the refreshing character to herbal, vegetable and fruit beverages and stands third behind orange and apple in the table of strongest flavours in non- alcoholic beverages last year.

    Mr Martinez provided us with an overview of world lemon juice supply for the period 2016/17 confirming that Argentina is way ahead at 61% leaving the nearest country, Spain, trailing at just 15%. Santiago pointed out that 75% of Argentina’s fruit harvest goes to industrial use whereas this applies to only 35% across the other main sources of supply and that small fresh fruit exporters are losing ground and share to the big producers. The prediction was that demand for lemon juice will continue to grow and diversify into new usages and that new trends and changing consumer habits call for higher standards of fruit production and juice processing. It is expected concluded Santiago, that only processors that can meet these new standards will be capable of supplying lemon juice for the front label.

    Speakers can be contacted through the AIJN at www.aijn.org

    Pictures courtesy of AIJN/Erik Luntang

    By Caroline Calder Features
  • 19 Sep


    Sicily has always considered itself to be one of the world’s centres of excellence for citrus with generation upon generation going back many years still involved in the local industry, guaranteeing the quality and the reputation of the regions products.

    No one is more passionate about the Sicilian citrus industry than Walter Ansorge.

    Walter, owner of the multinational Sunprod organisation based in Catania and ranked by the Financial Times (FT) as one of the most successful start- up companies in Europe in the FT’s best performing companies list for the period 2012-2015, has never had it so good. But things have not always been that way.

    In a textbook case study of the entrepreneur fighting to overcome seemingly impossible odds Walter Ansorge has been and continues to be, an inspiration to many. Not just in the fruit juice industry but in Italian business circles too.

    Here Fruit Juice Focus caught up with Walter to find out more about his irresistible story.

    Fruit Juice Focus (FJF): Can you tell us a bit about your personal background in the fruit juice industry and how you came to set up SunProd?

    Walter Ansorge (WA): My first experience of the ups and downs in the fortunes of business where when my parents moved from Germany at the beginning of the nineteen-sixties to Sicily to a place called Termini Imerese where I was born and grew up.  My parents had moved to the area on the understanding that they would be getting involved at the early stages of a seaside tourist resort that was planned for the town. This opportunity failed to materialise with my parents being badly let down by misleading advice from local politicians. The planned resort was sited in a highly industrial area where no tourists would be likely to want to relax on holiday and sunbathe and swim.

    When I was 19 and studying at university I started working part-time for one of the biggest citrus processors in Europe who were based in the town. This gave me a good grounding and understanding of the fruit juice and oils business. In 1994, at the age of 26, I decided to launch my own company in Palermo, in partnership with several Sicilian business colleagues that I knew in the trade. We built our own juice processing factory, grew our customer base and went from strength to strength over the next 15 years becoming one of the leading companies in Sicily.

    In July 2010 disaster struck! We suffered a major big robbery with more than Euro 2 million’s worth of fruit juice, oils and other item stolen from our warehouse. This brought the company near to financial collapse from which it was very difficult to recover. After much soul searching I decided that it was best that I left the company. The robbery was never solved and remained a mystery to this day as to what happened and who was behind it. I was left bankrupt. I had lost all my property and 15 years of hard work were seemingly wasted.

    After a period of some months at home, without any financial possibilities, I received a proposal from friends and colleagues in the industry to start up a new company and begin afresh.  Eager to get back into the business I loved, I decided to accept the proposal to start again and with a total capital of Euro7000 used to found the company and to buy one computer and two air tickets to Catania in Sicily at the edge of the famous Etruscan Plain, we were back in business! Sunprod was born.

    FJF: What challenges have your company faced, how were you able to overcome them and how has the company grown?

    WA: Initially getting credit from the banks and suppliers and purchasing fruit for processing was a major challenge -as it is with any young business. I had a good reputation with growers from when I was running my previous business and with the indirect support of the growers association I was able to get hold of the fruits we needed to get started.

    The growers association supported me from the very beginning with a big credit line permitting me to grow much faster than I would have expected especially as we didn’t have access to any bank credit at the time. This, coupled with our great relationships with other businesses and contacts in the market that we had developed over many years, and the extensive globe-trotting I undertook to meet with prospective customers and business partners, has made a significant contribution to our rate of growth.

    During the first eight month’s trading as a ‘one-man band’ I was able to close the financial year with Euro 2.2 million billing and a small salary from the profits. In 2012 I had increased turnover to Euro 6 million giving me enough financial resource to take the opportunity to hire young graduates here in Catania. The plan being that with a comprehensive internal training programme on the job, working alongside me with my 30 plus years of experience in the industry, we would grow a much stronger and more competitive organisation. This would enable us to undertake more projects and collaborations with cooperatives both inside and outside of Italy.

    This strategy certainly paid off with turnover by 2015 reaching Euro 16 million and by 2016 increasing by a further 25% to a total of Euro 20 million. Sunprod was exporting juices and essences of Sicilian citrus fruits to all the major countries in the world putting us up there among the top companies in Italy in this sector in a very short space of time.

    Today Sunprod works with many cooperatives, has five factories in Italy, an office in India, represents a Bolivian citrus company globally and we act as an exclusive agent in Italy for various Turkish, Greek and Spanish processors for whom we also operate as technical consultants.

    We are continuing to expand the Sunprod operation and are currently working towards opening a new factory in Venezuela and a negotiating a new cooperative deal with companies in Brazil who are looking to enter the Italian market.

    A strong cooperation with a big German essential oil company has enabled Sunprod to increase its shares on the essential oils market which is growing very fast and where Italy still leads the world for quality and bespoke products. The better we can remunerate our growers for the fruits they supply is the key point to guarantee our future and to create a sound trading base.

    Sunprod is also one of the biggest sellers in Italy of organic products, a sector in which we believe and invest in heavily.   We are in cooperation with Sicilian universities, to study and control better the pesticides that are used on the fruit crops as the arguments for not using them are growing ever more intense.

    In this continuous and fast growing environment, our team is working hard to push our development and growth even further, having more than five years’ experience on the front line. We also owe a great deal of our success to our co-packer, our suppliers and our customers, most of whom are friends and not just commercial partners. Transparency and fairness was from the very beginning our flag for a win-to-win business philosophy and it seems it works!!

    FJF: Can you tell us more about the Financial Times recognition of Sunprods success?

    WA: Yes of course. The Financial Times (FT) last year undertook a major study of the best growing companies across Europe – 32 countries in all during the period 2012 to 2015 – selecting  from more than 50.000 companies the best 1000 rated by performance data . We were selected as one of a few in Italy and the only one in south Italy. With the unemployment rate in this region standing at around 60% we had made impressive strides by creating in just a few years more than 15 new highly specialized jobs and more and more indirect jobs that work with and for us.  We were ranked in this FT list, in Food & Beverage, as number 33 in Europe, eighth in Italy and first in South Italy.

    This gave me a personal high. I was so proud.  This recognition has given us the incentive to go on and on and on. And I would thank all of those who believed in us and believed in my dream despite the setbacks and bad news days that we encountered in those early times

    FJF: What about the future for the Sicilian citrus industry, and what about your future?

    WA: Sicily and the regions agricultural products still have a very high image in the world and we at Sunprod do our very best to reinforce this view.  Sicilian citrus is still in our opinion the best in the world and all the factories here – although they are my competitors – are doing a great job professionally, backed up with experience developed over many generations in the business. There will be always a place in the citrus sector for Italian products, even if other countries are bigger with much lower costs. Quality is something that has to be paid for and many of our customers in the food industries understand this.

    I don’t regret the years of hard work, and still today find myself working a 16 hour day which is quite normal for me. Life gave me a second chance and I grasped the opportunity and am grateful for it.

    I am still travelling the globe doing deals, working the markets and promoting the Sunprod brand and collaborations. And I’m still loving it!

    By Caroline Calder Features
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