Q&A: From seed to shelf - The Jupiter story
As the world continues to reel from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has begun to show promising signs of establishing a “new normal”, with the nation ready to press on with life after the outbreak.
While companies and even whole industries are still grappling with the economic ramifications on the back of strict national containment measures, there are some who are already looking at ways to tap into new opportunities shaped by this pandemic.
One sector where there seems to be no signs of stopping is China’s fresh fruit imports, which already stands at a staggering annual value of USD9.5 billion (RMB 66.9 billion). The pandemic has not only driven continued demand for imports, but it has also driven a shift in consumer purchasing behaviour, such as a heightened awareness towards transparency and traceability amidst greater concerns for food safety.
One such company that is poised to tap into this growing demand is Jupiter Group, one of the UK’s fastest-growing fresh produce businesses. Jupiter’s international operation today includes offices in South Africa, Chile, Greece, India and Hong Kong.
Fresh Fruit Portal spoke to the husband-and-wife founders Mark and Yvonne Tweddle to learn more about their business, the journey behind growing Jupiter to become the award-winning global company it is today, and its plans for China and beyond.
Can you tell us a bit about the company and what you do?
Mark: Jupiter grows and supplies new and traditional varieties of grapes and citrus alongside melons, pineapples, limes, avocados and kiwi. The Jupiter story started when I got a taste of the fresh produce business during my holiday job as a tractor driver in my university days. We started in 2003 with a blank sheet of paper and a telephone and grew to kick off international sales in 2008, we haven’t looked back since. Today, we are one of the biggest players in the global fruit market.
Yvonne: Our focus from the start has been to be truly involved in the growing of our produce and be fully integrated in the supply chain. We have grown our network of growers spanning around the world, in countries including Chile, South Africa, Greece, and India, in order for us to ensure a worldwide, year-round supply for consumers.
With our global supply originating from various sources, it has allowed us to really champion true transparent supply chains, right from seed and sapling through to the shelf, ensuring all our growers and suppliers uphold the quality of our produces to British standards through the best practices that we have in place.
In this increasingly competitive landscape, how do you make sure you stand out as a business?
Mark: We are clear that we are growers of our produce, not just trading commodities. And I think it is exactly this hands-on commitment to bringing global consumers high quality, delicious and new fruit varieties, that really sets us apart from our competitors. We have a true handle on the complete supply chain.
We are constantly innovating and researching new ways to bring our produce more effectively and efficiently to consumers. Logistics can be a challenge for any fruit grower or distributor – not only are we faced with a traditionally limited shelf life, but the produce can also be susceptible to damage during transit.
To overcome that challenge, we looked to research and development. Our new seedless white grape variety, ARRA 15 (ARRA Sweeties™) for example is not only developed with superior taste – characterised by its crisp and juicy eating quality – the variety also possesses a long shelf life, and its unique durability means that this grape is equipped to withstand the shipping process and reach consumers in prime condition.
We are also the only company in the world to legally take new and specialised varieties of grape to India, and are Master License holders to produce the ARRA table grape varieties. This means we have the sole rights to produce these variety of grapes, and are licensed to do what other competitors cannot. In addition we have exclusivity to these varieties in Greece too. All our production is grown to the highest production credentials which we call the Jupiter Standard.
Yvonne: Our strive for innovation also comes through in how we manage the business as a whole. Managing such a complex, multi-faceted supply chain is not without its challenges, especially given the time-critical nature of fresh produce and fast-changing consumer demands. Which is why we pride ourselves in our forward-thinking approach to digital technology, which provides the business with the agility, flexibility and traceability it requires.
We have introduced hi-tech machinery whenever possible to make us more efficient, from integrating specialist packing equipment in pack houses, to global intelligent management solutions that enable us to be paperless and further streamline our processes. We also have some upcoming developments in the pipeline to leverage true supply chain transparency.
China is one of your key markets – how are you tapping into the demand? What are the trends and opportunities you see in China currently?
Mark: In tandem with China’s consumption upgrade, China’s increasingly discerning consumers are placing higher expectations and priority on the quality, safety and prompt delivery of fresh produce. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and how it has been brought to them.
And we are seeing this mindset and demand for more transparent and traceable food further reaffirmed during COVID-19. We therefore believe that this will be a more permanent consumer mindset shift as consumers reassess what they are putting into their bodies and move towards an event greater demand to understand the origins and practises behind their food.
We feel that the Jupiter story fits right into this consumer need for greater knowledge and transparency. We follow our fresh produce from seed to shelf, which allows us to share each step of that journey with our consumers in order for them to make an informed decision when purchasing.
To take that traceability story a few steps further, we are currently investing in blockchain technology in our business. It will enable real-time tracking of a fruit’s origin, which will improve overall transparency, standardisation and efficiency throughout our fresh produce supply chain, and better assure our consumers of our fruits’ origin and quality. We are excited that we will be able to reveal greater detail on this later in the year, which we believe will also be a huge selling point for consumers.
Yvonne: It is clear to us that high quality and safe produce are quickly becoming the baseline criteria for Chinese consumers. The next step is looking at how we can get it to them as quickly as possible and better serve their needs when they want it, where they want it.
With so many exciting retail concepts in China, the route to winning for us is working with like-minded distributors and retailers who can provide consumers with a seamless browsing, ordering and payment experience. This creates a trifactor of safe sourcing, excellent quality and engaging experience, which all contributes to our success in China.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented global impact across all industries. How is a company like Jupiter evolving and adapting during this ongoing pandemic?
Mark: In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking all necessary measures to ensure that we continue to meet our responsibilities towards our employees, customers and retailers. Part of our mission statement is to put our customers, suppliers and employees at the forefront in equal measure and we have continued to do that through the evolving pandemic.
For example, in terms of our products, we are packing them at the source into packaging that is ready for sale, which reduces the amount of product handling throughout the production process. We have equipped our people with the relevant PPE and are temp checking at site access globally, life has moved online and we are learning to embrace this.
The pandemic has also reaffirmed our commitment to providing a stable and smooth supply chain. Measures around the world to mitigate the spread of the virus has led to major disruptions in global trade. In China, food supply and security has surfaced as a pressing concern as countries stopped food exports. With our global supply chain and distribution hubs, we are well placed to meet short- and long-term needs, and continue to bring safe, quality and nutritious fruits to consumers in China.
What are your plans for the future?
Yvonne: While the pandemic has presented us with unprecedented challenges, one constant thing we are seeing across our business is an increase in demand for fresh fruit, and we are looking at our strategy and adapting it to this new normal. The situation also blessed us with a forced time frame to reassess our processes and our way of working to live up to one of our core values of ‘continual improvement’.
Our goal is to further grow the company – by continuing to add value, centralising operations and maximising efficiency and investment in new varieties across all our core products. We are also exploring new ways to reach out to consumers with our product, and continue to cement Jupiter’s British heritage, quality and standards, and seed-to-shelf assurance amongst consumers.