After eight years, Cape Concentrate’s new factory in the Coega Industrial Development Zone (IDZ), north of Port Elizabeth, will receive its first truckload of tomatoes for processing
The project has involved an investment of R200m so far on agricultural development and processing facilities.
The project was led by Post Harvest and Environmental Technologies (PHET, formerly PHT). Its primary financier is the Development Bank of Southern Africa, followed by Jonah Capital Group headed by Sam Jonah, a Ghanaian business magnet with origins in that country’s gold industry and more recently in Ghana’s budding oil industry.
Jonah holds 58 per cent of the shares in Cape Concentrate; PHET holds 42 per cent.
Great opportunites in Africa
PHET is a think-tank/consultancy partnership of agriculturalist/engineer Ian White and project manager/architect Gus Robinson. Both are British nationals who originally came to SA because opportunities in Africa are great, says Robinson, who is also marketing and business development director of Cape Concentrate.
Process tomatoes are one of those opportunities, he believes, both because the high amount consumed currently is entirely imported, and because of good growing conditions in parts of Africa.
Cape Concentrate’s long term vision is to replace most of the 460,000t per year which sub-Saharan Africa imports in tomato paste from China, Italy and Turkey.
It plans to do this via four more plants similar to the Coega plant elsewhere in southern and west Africa.
PHET’s analysis showed that tomatoes can be grown in different areas in the Eastern Cape 11 months per year - compared to three months in China (the world’s biggest tomato producer) and four months in California. And yields, under irrigation, are well above the norm in the Eastern Cape because it has highly suitable climates and some excellent alluvial soils.
Theoretically, therefore, the future is bright for a new processing tomato production industry in the Eastern Cape.
Obviously the same view has not been taken by Tiger Brands, which accounts for over 75 per cent of the domestic market in processed tomato end products. Its tomato processing facilities are in Lutzville, on the Cape west coast, and Musina, northern Limpopo.
But Ian White, operations director of Cape Concentrate, says that historically in SA, tomato processing operations were set up close to the markets which they served - but in areas which weren’t necessarily the best for production (for instance, the Cape west coast clearly is not).
For more than a decade, PHET has been convinced that the Eastern Cape has huge potential for large-scale tomato production - even though this development will still result in SA accounting for less than 1 per cent of the processed tomato industry in the world - it had to fight its way through successive thickets of SA bureaucracy to reach commissioning.
Now that the Coega plant is up, it expects to scale up to full processing capacity within a few months. Full capacity will be 350,000t per year of fresh tomatoes received (an average of about 1,000t/day), resulting in 48,000t of paste production. The end products will be different grades of hot and cold break tomato paste (14-38 brix).