Chinese joint venture with Hochfeld International adds value to grape category

Hi Fruit JV signing ceremony

Hochfeld International, the international trading arm of UK-based Richard Hochfeld Group (RHG), has signed a joint venture agreement with Zhuang ‘an, a fruit packer and distributor based in Jiaxing, China.

The JV business has officially been registered as Jiaxing Hi Fruit Import & Export Co. Ltd, but will be referred to as Hi Fruit. A packing operation for seedless grapes, at a state-of-the-art facility in Jiaxing, Hochfeld International has been exporting seedless grapes from its partner farms in the Southern Hemisphere for the past four seasons.

“We’ve developed excellent customer relationships in China during that time,” said Martin O’Sullivan, RHG’s Director of Business Development. “We had been supplying Zhuang an with grapes and they were very interested in our expertise in packing fruit.”

RHG will install a new line in the Hi Fruit packhouse, working alongside long-standing
partner Marco, which supplies packhouse productivity management solutions.

“We will help to build the JV’s output by providing a line to increase the capability of the team in China, while we supply them with seedless grapes from around the world. It will then be Zhuang ‘an’s responsibility as part of the JV to sell the grapes into Chinese supermarket customers,” said O’Sullivan. “Our key objective is to add value to the product we supply into our Chinese customers. The seedless grape category is relatively underdeveloped in China. Consumers like high-coloured, premium fruit, but awareness of the range of varieties doesn’t widely exist yet."

By packing the product to a high hygiene standard, Hi Fruit will aim to increase the potential to sell the value proposition of seedless grapes and move away from them being sold as a commodity.

“Richard Hochfeld Group are the seedless grape experts, whether that be
through our farming operations or our technical team based in the UK, who have been
working with grape for decades," O'Sullivan said. "We have proved in the UK that we can educate customers on what each variety will give them and what taste sensations they can expect. We can do that in China too, and one way to communicate the message effectively is through labelled, packaged products. Through this joint venture, we can do that.”

Hochfeld International will continue to directly supply its other wholesale and retail
customers in China with loose seedless grapes and other products.

“We envisage that this venture will enable us to significantly increase our sales of seedless grapes in China," O'Sullivan said. "At the moment there is a limited, but growing market for packed seedless grapes, but in doing this, we’re opening up market access to China for a greater proportion of our product.”

Chen Jianmin, Chairman of Zhuang 'an, added: “For the successful establishment of Jiaxing Hi Fruit Import & Export Co., Ltd., I would like to express my deep gratitude to Managing Director Alan Guindi, and all the staff of Richard Hochfeld Group for their great help. Zhuang ‘an has been involved in the cultivation, procurement and sales of fresh, safe fruit and vegetables for more than 10 years and we have been well received by farmers, recognised by customers and supported by our government."

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