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World Fresh making major strides in citrus deal

John Groh

Halloween was a little more exciting this year for World Fresh Produce, as the season’s first shipments of soft citrus from Morocco arrived by the end of October, about three weeks earlier than normal and five weeks earlier than last year.

The early arrival was welcome news for the three-year-old company, as demand for all varieties of citrus is especially high this year, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic that has people eating at home more and seeking healthy options to boost their immune systems.

In 2019, weather conditions delayed shipments and caused the company to miss the important Thanksgiving window for the fruit, according to Michel Matouk, president of World Fresh, who also handles procurement for North America.

“The first containers will sail during week 41 (around Oct. 10) and should arrive by Halloween,” said Matouk. “Last year, weather conditions and stress on the trees caused a delay in shipments.”

Franck Bellon, a partner in World Fresh Produce who is based in Morocco, said all indications point to a season that will see high-quality fruit with exceptional flavor, albeit with a smaller size profile due to the heavy sets on the trees.

“There will still be a good amount of larger fruit, which is preferred by the U.S. market, but there will be a lot of smaller fruit that will go to other markets, such as Russia and Canada,” said Bellon.

Matouk said the fact that Bellon is based in Morocco is a huge advantage for the company and its clients, since he can manage the season and be proactive as it progresses.

“This is really the future of the industry,” said Bellon. “These days, you need to be vertically integrated and control the fruit from the farm to the shelves.”

Adriana Borsellino, marketing manager at World Fresh, added that being vertically integrated makes the company a more desirable option for its clients, since it can react quickly to market shifts and maintain a consistent supply of fruit.

“In general, we like to have our people close to the product so they can keep an eye on things and maintain quality control,” she said.

Matouk said that along with high-quality and flavorful fruit, he expects pricing to be extremely favorable this season, again due to the coronavirus pandemic that is driving demand.

“In addition to clementines, we supply all varieties of citrus throughout the year, including oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes, both conventional and organic, and we source from a variety of countries in both hemispheres, such as Israel, Spain, South Africa, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina and Chile,” said Matouk. “Right now with oranges, no one can keep up with the demand, which is driving prices higher.”

A brand is launched
World Fresh markets its fruit under the PureFect label, a brand it launched a year ago, which saw a surge in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

“While COVID is a tragedy for sure, it caused consumers to purchase more citrus, and this coincided with our new brand receiving a lot of attention and recognition,” said Matouk.

PureFect has been very well received by both retailers and clients, according to Matouk.

“We started with just clementines, and now we use the label on a full line of SKUs, in bags and bulk,” he said. “It’s our proprietary brand and it is for our higher-end product. And in the case of our Moroccan clementine deal, with Frank on the ground in Morocco, he is able to oversee quality assurance on site and make sure only the best is packed under the PureFect brand.”

A growing company
Matouk said that World Fresh “has grown exponentially in the last year,” and it is poised for even more growth.

“We’ve added seven new employees since last December, and we recently opened a new office on the Montreal terminal market,” said Matouk.

He said World Fresh took occupancy Sept. 1 and is in the process of finalizing the space, which it expects to be complete in early October. The company is headquartered in Cherry Hill, NJ, outside of Philadelphia.

“We’ll have a small team in Montreal, but it is strategically located near the retailers that we service, so that is a big advantage,” he said.

He added, “It’s been a lot of work and perseverance to get to this point, but we are ready to take the next step. Right now, it feels like we are speed walking, but now it is time to start jogging.”

Photo: Adriana Borsellino, Marketing Manager, and Michel Matouk, President and CEO of World Fresh Produce

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