South Africa has secured its place as the second largest global exporter of fresh citrus. Following 15% growth in 2020, the South Africa citrus industry is expected to break export records with an estimated 158.7 million cartons exported in 2021. Local citrus producers and their logistics partners must now expand their cooling capabilities in order to meet the increase in demand and protect the investment made by local farmers.
So says Dawie Kriel, Head of Business Development at EP Refrigeration, who points out that state-of-the-art, environmentally responsible refrigeration infrastructure is an essential resource in the processing and export of fresh produce such as citrus. “Post-harvest agri-businesses will need to increase their capacity significantly over the coming years. Consider that South Africa has signed a citrus export deal with the Philippines for around 20 000 tonnes annually, and South Africa’s citrus production is expected to grow by 500 000 tonnes over the next three to five years. With growth targets like these, building out one’s refrigeration capacity requires prioritisation of a well-planned and executed strategy.”
He explains that the development of Servitisation, or Cooling as a Service (CaaS), in the logistics cold chain can make a meaningful contribution in adding value to the industry’s growth efforts. “New citrus processing and export facilities with high-tech cooling infrastructure is needed to keep up with demand. Projects of this nature take a year or more to plan and the skill level required to guarantee success is in scarce supply. Once installed, companies will need trained technicians to operate and maintain the system at peak efficiency. Servitisation of cooling offers exactly that. All aspects of one’s cooling system can be managed – from construction to operation and maintenance – by an experienced CaaS provider.”
In addition, he adds that CaaS providers, also take on the cost of installation. “In essence, the client won’t need to pay for the cooling infrastructure at all, just for the amount of cooling that they use in their operations.”
Kriel notes that South African food producers are in a particularly good position to take advantage of the CaaS model. “South Africa currently has world-class skills available in the cooling sector. Given the high tariffs for grid-based power, being able to access energy efficient cooling with no capital outlay, also gives companies – like citrus producers – a definite edge.”
He notes that refrigeration is still one of the biggest operational costs to a food processing facility in terms of maintenance and power. “This is where having the right engineering expertise on call is extremely beneficial. Outsourced refrigeration specialists have the expertise and tools to monitor cooling systems in real time and are able to make minor adjustments or predict catastrophic maintenance issues before they impact production.”
In closing, Kriel says that South Africa’s food producers need cutting edge and environmentally responsible cooling solutions now more than ever. “If the industry is going to keep growing at this rapid pace, Servitisation of cooling may be the most important decision to make.”