Hans Peter Werder, the owner of HPW, is a responsible producer of different fruits products, including dried mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, and bananas, for bulk, private labels and under their own Tropicks brand. We had the chance to speak to him ahead of his talk on West Africa Connect about opportunities and challenges in exporting mango products.
Can you tell a bit more about yourself and HPW?
“In 1996, I was working for a company producing jam and other processed food items in Switzerland. A friend asked me to help him sell air-freighted pineapples from Ghana to customers in Europe and that’s how HPW was established. We started by selling fresh pineapples and fresh-cut and packaged fruit together with Blue Skies and exported to supermarkets in Switzerland and Europe.
Today, HPW produces, as we like to say, the World’s Finest Snacks in our two dried fruit factories in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Next to that we also work with processors and packers of fruit and vegetable specialities in Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Thailand, and Guatemala.”
So, you started with pineapples, expanding your business to mangoes and other fruits. Do you still see new potential?
“Currently, we focus on dried fruits and fruit snacks, such as bars, bites and rolls, for our Tropicks brand and private labels for customers in Scandinavia, UK and the USA. From there, we can expand even more by adding other ingredients to our fruit snacks, such as cashew and chocolate. The snack business offers multiple opportunities for us to come up with value-added products with dried fruits as a basis.”
HPW works with a network of almost 1,400 farms which you offer services and buy fruit from. How do you support the farmers?
“We have large factories that process over 35,000 tonnes of fresh fruit a year, so we need to have a steady supply of quality fruits all the time. This pressure on quantity and quality led to the decision to get actively involved in farmer support as well. We support the farmers with technical know-how and capacity building with a team of agronomists who visit the farmers regularly. For research & development, we imported 37 different varieties of mango a few years ago, nursed them, and put them on trial farms all over Ghana to find the most convenient varieties for the West African climate and our requirements. These specific mango trees are also shared with our farmers. Next to that, we also have a demonstration plot for small stem techniques for mango cultivation. Farmers can visit this demonstration farm, see the results year by year, and learn from it.
For pineapples, we developed a system of block farming. For this, we organized a piece of land and divided it into ten blocks. This land has been handed over to smallholders and we provide all the support they need. Nowadays, we rely on these block farms, there are about 30 of these farms in Ghana and we recently started cultivating organic pineapple in Ivory Coast as well.”
Producing a premium product must come with challenges. Can you tell a bit more about the obstacles you faced in the past years?
“We started the company with a smallholder pineapple farm in Ghana and helped to expand the business to one of the largest pineapple producers in the country. In 2003, the farm became the first fair trade certified pineapple farm in the world, which created a huge demand in the United Kingdom. We sent our first agronomist to Ghana one year later. He did great, expanding our pineapple export activities but at the same time, it was hard to comply with the constantly increasing customer requirements. Also, competing with Costa Rica for pineapples is a tough job.
Today, we are lucky to have a great team of people in Ghana and Ivory Coast. We are really proud of our local management taking care of daily business. The leaders are with us since 2007 when we were only selling fresh pineapples and they have grown with us. This is the best solution for everyone involved.”
Your story is quite inspirational. Do you have any sound advice for suppliers of mangoes from West Africa?
“Invest in long-term relationships with your fresh fruit buyers. In general, we can help suppliers create a stable income. Agriculture is maybe having a great year now, whereas it could be less rewarding next year. If you are loyal to a partner that can help you over a long period, it will pay off. The more sustainable the partnership is, the more we can support and grow your yield and income.”
Hans Peter Werder is part of a panel on West Africa Connect about the opportunities and challenges of the West African mango sector. Keep an eye on our program to find out more soon!