Swartland jam fac­tory turns re­jected fruit into profit

A fruit-man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness at Piket-Bo-Berg in the Western Cape has cre­ated a mar­ket for re­jected pro­duce by turn­ing it into jam, chut­ney and sim­i­lar prod­ucts. Je­an­dré van der Walt spoke to gen­eral man­ager Liebré Ja­cobs about her com­pany’s achieve­ment

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents - FW

FruitLips is a small fruit­pro­cess­ing fac­tory on the fam­ily-owned farm Achter­vlei at Piket-Bo-Berg in the Swartland. Here a staff of 17 process jams, mar­malades, chut­neys and fruit in syrup, en­tirely by hand, from fruit that has been re­jected for fresh sales and can­not be used for other types of pro­cess­ing.

“Start­ing a busi­ness to cre­ate jobs that would trans­fer skills was al­ways at the back of my mind. How­ever, I didn’t ex­pect it to take off so quickly,” says Liebré Ja­cobs, the force be­hind FruitLips. The com­pany was es­tab­lished five years ago when a neigh­bour­ing farm came up for sale. This had a well-es­tab­lished jam fac­tory on it, but the fa­cil­ity had stopped pro­duc­tion af­ter a few years.

“My fa­ther, who farms plums, re­garded the neigh­bour­ing farm as a good in­vest­ment,” re­calls Ja­cobs. “He bought it fac­tory and all, and asked if I still wanted to start a busi­ness. It was the defin­ing mo­ment for FruitLips, which took off in Novem­ber 2013.”

Ja­cobs ap­proached her mother, Dei­dré Eige­laar, to get in­volved as an in­vestor. To­gether, they ap­proached Elouise Josephs, who has spe­cial­ist knowl­edge of jam mak­ing and had worked in the jam fac­tory pre­vi­ously. “Elouise has years of ex­pe­ri­ence and comes from the area.

It was an ob­vi­ous choice to in­volve her,” ex­plains Ja­cobs.

FROM FOOD WASTE TO POP­U­LAR DEL­I­CA­CIES

Ac­cord­ing to Ja­cobs, FruitLips was started as a di­rect re­sult of its own­ers’ con­cerns about food waste, es­pe­cially the waste of fruit and veg­eta­bles that can­not be sent to a juic­ing fa­cil­ity, and the un­em­ploy­ment of lo­cal res­i­dents.

“Prior to the es­tab­lish­ment of FruitLips, 20% of Achter­vlei’s plum crop was un­mar­ketable due to the size of the fruit, or other im­pair­ments,” says Ja­cobs.

Ini­tially, the com­pany used the farm’s se­cond-rate plums to make var­i­ous jams and braai sauces, cre­at­ing a mar­ket for the farm’s re­jects.

As FruitLips ex­panded, it started to in­clude other prod­ucts in its range.

“Cur­rently, we man­u­fac­ture 70 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts and process about 70t a year from a va­ri­ety of fruit, rang­ing from plums, figs and ap­ples to beet­root and pep­pers. We process any­thing,” says Ja­cobs.

The bulk of the pro­duce used in the fac­tory comes from lo­cal farm­ers in the Swartland, with the re­main­der sourced from farms as far away as Ash­ton.

“My pro­duce comes to me for dif­fer­ent rea­sons; it’s ei­ther mis­shapen or can’t be sold due to hail or bird dam­age. I also get a lot of sur­plus of spe­cific fruits be­cause of their short shelf life.”

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS

Al­though FruitLips and its prod­ucts are widely en­joyed to­day, it took much blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.

“The first three years were not easy, but when Wool­worths came on board in 2016, FruitLips ex­pe­ri­enced a big break­through,” says Ja­cobs. “Af­ter three chal­leng­ing years, the busi­ness is fi­nally in sta­ble waters.”

About 70% of their pro­duc­tion is des­tined for Wool­worths; the rest is sold through var­i­ous other re­tail­ers un­der the brand’s own la­bel. Cur­rently, FruitLips pro­duces be­tween 15 000 and 28 000 jars of prod­uct a month.

“In the pre­vi­ous fi­nan­cial year, we sold 150 000 units, and we aim to sell 260 000 units this year,” says Ja­cobs

In a small test kitchen in the fac­tory, Josephs, who is in charge of prod­uct devel­op­ment, reg­u­larly cooks up a test batch, which rarely dis­ap­points.

Ja­cobs says their mar­ket­ing is largely through word of mouth. “Cus­tomers taste the prod­ucts and tell their fam­ily and friends, in­creas­ing our cus­tomer base.”

She adds that the busi­ness also uses so­cial me­dia to ad­ver­tise its prod­ucts.

‘ WE PROCESS 70 TONS A YEAR FROM A VA­RI­ETY OF FRUIT’

ZERO WASTE

In jam-mak­ing, a fair quan­tity of fruit and veg­etable of­f­cuts and peels nor­mally end up in the bin. At FruitLips, Ja­cobs and her team try to en­sure that as lit­tle as pos­si­ble goes to waste.

FruitLips also runs a use­ful and prof­itable worm farm.

“It’s a great way to re­cy­cle our fruit waste. The worms com­post ev­ery­thing ex­cept cit­rus peels, but these we re­use in our mar­malades. The worms even re­cy­cle our card­board boxes,” Ja­cobs says.

She adds that worm tea, a by-prod­uct of worm farm­ing, is used as a liq­uid fer­tiliser on young fruit trees at Achter­vlei. Some of the worm tea is sold to lo­cal farm­ers.

All wa­ter used within the fac­tory, ex­cept that in the toi­lets, is re­cy­cled for ir­ri­ga­tion.

“We have a veg­etable gar­den where we grow pro­duce for the staff to take home. We also grow the herbs used in some of our prod­ucts,” ex­plains Ja­cobs.

TRAIN­ING IN A VA­RI­ETY OF SKILLS

Ev­ery­thing is done by hand to cre­ate as many jobs as pos­si­ble in the Piket-Bo-Berg area. Since the start of FruitLips, the work­force has grown from 11 em­ploy­ees to 17.

Ja­cobs be­lieves in trans­fer­ring skills in order to equip em­ploy­ees to be­come more pro­fi­cient and en­sure con­ti­nu­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

“At FruitLips, our peo­ple learn a va­ri­ety of skills, from peel­ing to la­belling and the cook­ing process, and we also con­duct fi­nan­cial skills train­ing once a week.”

Other train­ing in­cludes first aid, fire­fight­ing, and qual­ity con­trol.

PLANS TO IN­CREASE PRO­DUC­TION

As the pop­u­lar­ity of the FruitLips prod­ucts in­creases, Ja­cobs hopes to in­crease pro­duc­tion to 60 000 units a month. But this will not be at the ex­pense of qual­ity.

“Al­though we want to in­crease ca­pac­ity and per­haps even set up a big­ger fac­tory in Piket­berg in the fu­ture, FruitLips will re­tain its hand­made au­then­tic­ity,” she says.

• Email [email protected] or visit fruitlips.co.za.

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