Growing more than excellent fruit and vegetables

Situated in the Western Cape of South Africa, Suiderland Plase, a division of the Suiderland Development Corporation, has been growing and exporting citrus and deciduous fresh fruits and vegetables since 1980 to a worldwide market. During this time the company has grown to become the highly-reputed provider, running six farms in the Western Cape. Its parent company continues to deliver across a broad range of markets, including fishing and fish processing, timber and timber processing, charcoal processing, business development and—our focus this issue— fruit farming and processing.

One of Suiderland Plase’s most obvious characteristics is its fierce commitment to operating in accordance to the best business practices available, resulting in the company’s accreditation from GlobalGAP as well as Tesco Natures Choice. This issue of TABJ looks more closely at how fresh fruit and vegetable growing should be done.

Growing into Suiderland Plase

The Suiderland Development Corporation started in 1947 as a small company. Mr. Andre Pierre du Preez joined forces with Dr. P.G.S Neethling to process fish livers for vitamin A oil under the company name Bonafide Fisheries. In 1965, the company became the Suiderland Development Corporation Ltd. The company’s listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange marked the introduction of a host of other industries within the company including such as timber, charcoal, and farming.

“Suiderland Development Corporation is involved in the fishing industry including squid, crayfish and deep sea trolling,” Dr. Neethling, Director of the Suiderland  Development Corporation says.

“We are also involved in fruit farming and the marketing of fresh fruit internationally. We also partake in the timber industry where we have our own plantations as well as produce charcoal products.”

The Suiderland Development Corporation now has approximately 2,500 workers, many of whom are seasonal, with 1,400 employees under the Suiderland Plase umbrella. Neethling says that within this total, Suiderland Plase has around 150 to 200 permanent team members. The workforce is, of course, dependent on product requirement, crop cycles and the overall nature of the product. Neethling’s explanation of how staff are patterned within the company marks the first indication of the care and attention of both the workers and the company strategy to deliver such high product standards. The parent company aims to be in the Top 5 of all sectors it operates, with its values centred on providing excellent service, being socially responsible, environmentally conscious and actively innovative.

A product with an edge

The company’s major products are large varieties of citrus fruits and grapes which are grown and exported. Trade occurs both in the company’s native Africa and on an international level providing numerous different retailers. “We export internationally to the UK, Europe, and a fair percentage to the Middle East, USA, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and China,” Neethling says.

“We have taken control of the entire process from growing the fruit, tp packing the fruit and marketing directly to major supermarkets in the UK and Europe.” Taking on the entire value chain from growing and packing to exporting to clients is no small feat for Suiderland Plase. This really differentiates the company from many others, but the range of activities within the division do not end there. Within the product offering, citrus varieties include navel, late navel, valencia, nadercot, lemon, satsuma, red grapefruit, clementine, morr and orri. Grape varieties include alphonse, crimson seedless, flame seedless, red globes, sugarones, superior seedless, thompson seedless, valencias and waltham cross. On mere first glance, it becomes clear that Suiderland Plase has a large product range to handle.

“We are involved in table grapes in two of our farms and citrus is being produced on five of our farms,” Neethling explains.

“We do have a small percentage of potatoes and some apples but we are focusing on citrus and table grapes.” It appears that, much like its parent company, Suiderland Plase strives to offer a rich and diverse portfolio whilst retaining excellent standards of quality assurance and best business practices across the board.

Commitment to clients, communities and tomorrow

In line with its commitment to above-average standards of both product and business practices, Suiderland Development Corporation takes its efforts in social responsibility very seriously. The company has played an active role in the community within an impressive set of programs and supports a number of different organizations. This involves working with local schools, cancer associations, retirement homes, organizations for the physically disabled and hospitals by using a percentage of the company profit to help financially back these outlets.

One of the company’s main social responsibility programmes is aimed towards youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, which has involved starting a youth centre running programs for disadvantaged children, accommodating 60 individuals and feeding them three meals a day.

In further recognising future potential, the company also offers programs that feed in practical work on Suiderland Plase farms. “We have a program where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are doing practical work on the farms for a year,” Neethling says.

Other corporate social responsibility activities include awareness about HIV and STDs aimed to increase education of these health threats and improving health and social care of those living with them— reducing stigma, unintended pregnancy and more.

The company is a family-run affair and many employees enjoy long-standing relationships as part of the team. There is a strong sense of worth and unity between employees which allows this increasingly large operation to maintain that valuable personal touch within the ranks.

“It’s a family-owned business and we try and operate as a family unit. Employees stay with the company for many years. There is a loyalty that has developed over many years and there is a huge element of unity and cooperation,” Neethling says.

“We feel strongly about incentivizing and giving recognition for senior management and employees who have done their job well.”

Essentially, Suiderland Plase is a story of big business growth done right. Company success and development has been carried out with the highest levels of care, attention and respect for clients, workers and the communities around its areas of operation. There is something truly special about honing in on such an industrious and client committed division. The company’s vision is to be the utmost differentiated organisation and it shows. This company is a great example of business done right.