When life gives you lemons, make sure they’re seedless

The new LemonGold brand, which follows in the footsteps of the globally successful ClemenGold mandarin brand, will launch in one of South Africa’s high-end retailers in June. Although seedless lemons are not new to the local or international agricultural market, previous South African consumer-facing offerings have not been backed by strong branding. Now consumers will be drawn to conveniently seedless lemons by a brand built on the same principles as ClemenGold, promising consistent quality, farmed according to Woolworths’ Farming for the Future standards and supported by a concerted marketing effort to build recognition and ultimate trust.

LemonGold-seedless-lemons

‘In the current marketplace success for fresh produce growers does not only rely on good quality fruit or smooth logistics and especially not on low prices. It has increasingly more to do with strong branding backed by marketing excellence and the strength of the complete value chain supporting the process,’ says Marius du Plessis, CEO of ANB Produce and Marketing, the commercialisation and marketing arm of South African based ANB Investments who also owns the ClemenGold brand. ‘Consumers increasingly base their trust and consequently their buying behaviour on reputation and visibility of brands. We are now ideally positioned to handle the distribution and marketing of this innovative brand.’

The holy grail of the lemon industry

The brand has already found a sweet spot in the German and Irish markets at premium retailers where the seedlessness of the product addresses culinary frustrations experienced by chefs, home-cooks, health enthusiasts, mixologists and lovers of all things lemony. The seedless lemon has been described as the holy grail of the lemon industry. The global trend highlighting the health aspects of making lemons a part of daily life, has put the spotlight on this zesty fruit that brings flavour to almost any dish.

According to Marius du Plessis, delivering to retailers and the consumer at a consistently promised quality level in terms of taste and consumption attributes, remains important, but the equity of a visible and well-executed brand is a game changer.  ‘ClemenGold has trail-blazed its path to sit proudly on the shelves of retailers such as Edeka in Germany, SuperValu in Ireland, Spinney’s in Dubai and various significant Chinese establishments, and our superior value proposition in conjunction with sound business sense from our export partners Core Fruit give us significant bargaining power. While the supply of our fruit is backed by marketing excellence and a major investment in a recognisable brand, we remain conscious of contributing to the sustainability of supply and retail partners. We call this our ecosystem where all parties contribute to and benefit from the growth.’

One of the partner growers who form part of this ecosystem is Schoeman Boerdery, situated in the Marble Hall production area in Limpopo South Africa. Hendrik Schoeman, CEO of Schoeman Boerdery agrees that LemonGold is the ideal addition to the ‘gold range of citrus’. ‘We are excited to be part of the producer group that is accredited to grow this cultivar. The innovation behind commercialising and marketing the cultivar will give consumers access to world-class produce. In addition, the fact that these lemons are produced over large areas of South Africa, will lengthen the availability period significantly to the benefit of the consumer.’

‘From a production point of view this cultivar has been well-received as the trees genetically possess the ability to yield up to seven harvests per year. Especially during the first few harvests, young trees do not naturally adhere to prescribed flowering rhythms. Therefore, growers have to be more adaptable and work in partnership with nature instead of fighting this.’

How did it start?

Citrogold, the ANB company undertaking protected cultivar management, from development, evaluation through to commercialisation, is the license holder in South Africa for two seedless lemon cultivars, both protected with Plant Breeders Rights. According to Viresh Ramburan, Citrogold director, they recognised the potential of seedless lemons as a game changer in the lemon cultivar category many years ago and procured cultivars that could fill this product need from breeders in South Africa in 2002 and Australia in 2010. The cultivar from Australia, registered as 3X97, also called 2PH seedless lemon, is proving to be more popular with growers in South Africa.

In 2013 AJ Esser, the CEO of ANB’s fruit growing business, Indigo Fruit Farming, visited Australia to investigate new citrus cultivars. Although the main focus was on mandarins, a visit to Kevin Parr who was growing 3X97 in Queensland, Australia, brought seedless lemons onto the agenda. ‘Kevin had trees in production and the external quality, the large fruit set, high juice content and of course the seedlessness caught our attention. Back in South Africa I convinced our partners that we should become part of the 2PH seedless lemon story.’

Indigo consequently planted 205 hectares of 3X97 and others followed with now close to 2 000 hectares currently licensed by Citrogold in South Africa. ‘We’re currently harvesting from our first trees and the demand for the seedless lemons from around the globe is huge. The cultivar is still in its infancy in South Africa and still needs to prove itself, but in Australia the trees can flower 4 to 7 times a year and can yield up to 80 tons per hectare’ says Esser.

According to Ramburan fruit of the cultivars are consistently seedless, with great juice content. Insufficient plantings of these seedless lemon cultivars in the early years meant most consumers were unaware of the product. ‘Now with the focussed marketing efforts being undertaken with LemonGold seedless lemons, combined with commitment of leading growers towards plantings of seedless lemon cultivars, we are excited that consumers will see, experience and love the conveniently seedless benefits of these products,’ he says.