By Gabrielle Venter
We have seen a decline in young people entering the fruit industry in the past ten to fifteen years. This is very unfortunate and something that I, personally, as well as Colors Fruit, as a company, would like to change,” says Liezel Kriegler, director and fruit exporter for Colors Fruit. “The fruit industry is interesting, fast-moving and has a lot of challenges and opportunities for young people today. It is an industry where you, as an individual, can still make a difference on a daily basis and, for me, this is the most satisfying part of the job.”
Initially, a fruit exporter can earn about R10 000 to R15 000 per month and, with five to eight years’ experience, some R20 000 to R40 000 a month.
“The job involves all aspects, from production, packing of fruit, logistics and export, to commercial interaction with different markets (local and overseas). We procure fruit from growers, make sure that the right fruit is packed for the right market in the right packaging material, sell the fruit for the best possible prices in the different market segments and make sure that weekly programmes to supermarkets are delivered (right quality, right packaging, right volumes, sizes, etc). It also involves commercial interaction with the different supermarkets, import managers, retailers and clients across the world.”
“The pros of the job are that the export fruit industry is an industry where every day is a challenge and different to the previous one. You get addicted to the passion and energy. You meet and become friends with people all over the world. You experience the cultures of other countries firsthand and working with a living, changing product is always satisfying. The cons are that fruit export is seasonal. Also due to the perishable nature of the product, the pressure can be very high at certain times of the year, and the responsibility to your producer and trying to give him the best returns in an environment with so many factors of change, creates a lot of stress.”
“The export fruit industry has four definite divisions of skill: commercial, technical,
financial and logistics. So a degree in any of these fields will give you entry into the business. As you go along, you will pick up the necessary experience.”
To follow this career, you need to have passion and energy. “You need to be strong, stubborn, dedicated, focused, enthusiastic and ever so slightly nuts.” The fruit export business is very interactive. Therefore, you need good people skills, as well as a love of working with people. You need to be able to create structure in an unstructured business, to work under pressure and to handle stress, and accuracy and attention to detail are important.
An average day involves communicating with the pack house, producer or technical personnel with regard to packing, volumes and quality. “I deal with the logistical team with regard to vessel schedules and the loading of fruit onto vessels. I communicate with different markets, supermarkets and importers regarding programmes and volumes, market expectations, prices and account sales. I also give feedback to growers, in terms of expected prices, quality, keeping deadlines and payments.”
“The best thing about the job is that no day is predictable or the same as the previous day; it’s challenging, but also very rewarding with a lot of personal satisfaction; you need to think on your feet and find solutions; you meet a lot of interesting people; the speed and energy gets addictive; and it’s one of the careers where you can still make a difference.”
“The worst aspects of the job are the communication, in terms of difficult markets or low prices back to growers; explaining to supermarkets why you could not deliver this week’s programme; and quality problems during or before the packing of fruit.”
Liezel’s advice for all career seekers out there is, “Be dedicated to work hard for what you want to achieve, have passion and energy for life and what you do every day, be inquisitive and ask questions, do research and don’t be afraid to take the initiative.”
Published By: Liezl Maclean