Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is ever more important to businesses of all kinds, especially in the UK. PBUK explores the positive example set by the South African topfruit and stonefruit industries, which, thanks to the charitable campaign: Help a South African School, have made huge strides forward with their UK sales and consumer awareness.
By communicating to schoolchildren and their families that buying South African fruit makes a positive impact on the lives of millions of people, over the last seven years the initiative has raised UK awareness of the taste, quality and ethics of eating South African fruit.
As part of the wider campaign to develop the British market, the project has significantly grown sales, while giving companies the opportunity to participate in a worthy CSR cause. It’s a successful scheme, with benefits for all involved, that might inspire other produce industries and companies.
“CSR is an area of growing importance, and every country of origin, or company can look for a cause that resonates with its consumers,” explains Dominic Weaver, the managing director of RED Communications, which coordinates the campaign together with Hortgro in South Africa.
“Help a South African School has been very successful – it’s an incredible way of galvanising support from many people in the fruit supply chain,” he continues.
“It gives retailers, suppliers and other companies a CSR-focused project to which they can contribute and make a very real impact.”
Since the project was set up in 2009 it has evolved from a small charitable initiative into a campaign of its own right that is supported by multiple parties.
Today, it is backed by the South African High Commission in the UK, the courier Hermes, shipping and logistics firms Maersk and Damco, as well as UK retailers including Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose, alongside thousands of UK schoolchildren, teachers and parents.
“It’s a very exciting way of engaging these parties and giving them all a clear understanding of the positive difference South African fruit makes,” says Jacques du Preez, general manager of trade and markets at Hortgro.
“The initiative helps us highlight to UK children, parents and schools that when they buy this delicious fruit their choice supports the development of South Africa and the process of empowerment,” du Preez continues.
“It makes a huge difference to the everyday lives of many thousands of workers and their families.”
Weaver says the wider campaign has positively impacted South African topfruit and stonefruit sales at the UK’s top four supermarkets.
“Since the campaign started at the top four retailers in 2009 we have seen sales of South African stonefruit grow by more than 100% – up to and including the 2016/17 season,” he explains.
Moreover, Weaver says the South African industry has formed strong relationships with the retailers and the UK supply chain, which has enabled them to develop a clearer understanding of the benefits of and potential for South African fruit.
They have also learned how to jointly market the fruit well; with the aim of growing market share and the market for the stonefruit and topfruit categories as a whole.
“We work simultaneously at the point-of-sale in-store; online via social media with posts such as short films; in the press and with the trade,” Weaver says. “And, through the schools’ initiative, direct to schools and families. The combination of activities has had an extremely positive impact on sales.”
As part of their support, UK retailers have started to carry details about the initiative on packs of South African fruit sold in their stores. Although he cannot comment further at the moment, Weaver reveals he is expecting developments in these partnerships for the season ahead.
Such as been the impact that awareness of South African fruit and its workers is growing in the UK.
“The overall campaign to promote South African fruit has had a definite impact,” Weaver states. “We ran consumer research at the start of the campaign and again in 2015. We saw a clear increase in the awareness of the taste, quality and ethics of eating South African fruit.”
The campaign model
Help a South African School comprises two parts. Firstly, there is a school collage competition that encourages children to learn about South African food and farming. The winner receives funds.
For the last two years the winner has also received a fruit-inspired workshop with the BBC children’s food presenter Stefan Gates, with whom the campaign has made a series of short films in South Africa to back up its messages.
Secondly, UK schools and parents are encouraged to donate unwanted text books and reading books, which are shipped to schools in rural areas of South Africa. Hermes, Maersk and Damco are among the industry partners who make the collections and distribution possible.
“When schoolchildren sit down together to create their collages, we want them to learn what makes South African fruit special and how it is grown and to discover the vibrancy of South Africa’s food and culture,” du Preez explains.
“And with the essential contributions of our industry partners, people donate books to South African schools, which allows them to make a positive impact directly.”
In response to requests from teachers, Du Preez reveals that Hortgro is looking at the possibility of also giving South African schools computers and putting UK and South African schools in touch with one another.
To give the initiative added impact, the industry also coordinates a partner scheme called the South African Cuisine Young Chef of the Year. This aims to communicate the superior taste of South African fruit, as well as the ethical reasons for chefs and restaurants to include it on their menus.