While COVID-19 may have dramatically altered the way business is operated, how offices are manned and how people work, there are some things even a pandemic can’t change. Take fruit for example. No matter how much the world is turned on its head, fruit has its own schedule, growing and ripening on the ground in bushes and trees, an unstoppable process, COVID-19 or not.
For Cindyanto Tjong, President Director of Sewu Segar Nusantara (SSN), Indonesia’s leading distributor of fruit, no matter how many of the country’s borders were closed, nor how many employees were ordered home, timing was absolutely crucial. Fruit still had to be picked and delivered on time.
“Right down to the hour,” he reflects. “I know it was a difficult time for the rest of the world, but our industry is very tangible; once fruit is picked the perish rate is high, and living in a country made up of islands, our supply chain is vital. It’s always a race against time to get our fruit delivered into stores.
“Obviously, during COVID-19 it was even more difficult as we also had to predict demands, understand who was going to buy the fruit, who could deliver it and whether customers would buy it. It’s not like canned fruit where these problems can wait. Every day after harvest means our fruit is a day older so our industry can’t wait – it happens in the hour. That’s our biggest challenge.”
A subsidiary of conglomerate Gunung Sewu Kencana and affiliate of Great Giant Foods, SSN was established in 1995. It provides predominantly tropical fruits under the Sunpride label to supermarkets, hypermarkets and roadside stalls.
Products include bananas, pineapples, guavas, melons and papayas, all grown locally, while its kiwifruit, apples, pears and oranges are imported. “We have an excellent partnership with Zespri for our delicious kiwifruit and we’re working on expanding our relationships with overseas brands,” Cindyanto explains.
In May 2019, SSN opened Indonesia’s most advanced ripening rooms at the Surabaya branch. These state-of-the-art facilities provide better temperature control, require less handling of the fruit and maintain a finely tuned atmosphere.
The company’s exceptional quality of taste and freshness achieved through its storage and packaging also gives it a clear edge over the competition. Cindyanto has been with the company since early 2019 when he joined as COO before being appointed President Director in July last year.
With a strong background in marketing, working across various industries in agribusiness and consumer goods, his brief with SSN was to expand the local distribution channel and improve data analysis.
It’s always a race against time to get our fruit delivered into stores.
He admits, however, it’s his degree in engineering which has really benefited him when critical thinking was required to process problems more quickly. “At the moment, we’re increasing our online data infrastructure so we can make more strategic decisions,” Cindyanto explains.
“It’s particularly important in our sales division. I think my experience in engineering has helped me understand a situation faster, whether anything can be improved and which path to take to make it happen.”
SSN’s plantations are nestled in Lampung on the southern tip of Sumatra, a key region for growing tropical fruit. One plantation owned and managed by Great Giant Pineapple in Terbanggi, Lampung Tengah, covers 35,000 hectares.
Meanwhile, the much smaller 3,500-hectare Nusantara Tropical Farm plantation in Way Jepara has the capacity to produce 4.8 million boxes of export-quality bananas, guavas and pineapples every year.
While SSN enjoys a strong relationship with local farmers, ensuring they are benefited by the latest techniques in cultivation, its commitment also extends to the consumers. The company has launched successful campaigns to educate Indonesians about the benefits of eating fruit and how to select the best pieces, based on colour, hardness and size.
“I feel passionate about helping and encouraging farmers to improve their agricultural practices and how to bring their fruit to market,” Cindyanto says.
“We believe consumers have a right to eat healthy foods and, as a supplier, from the farm to the fork, we need to ensure the whole supply chain is committed to ensuring quality. A campaign we launched last year was aimed at not only teaching people about how healthy fruit is, but also what goes on behind the scenes to grow it.”
Describing fruit lovers as fruitaholics, Cindyanto says Indonesians are particularly partial to bananas and pineapples. He says Sunpride’s Honi pineapple is a particular favourite because of its signature sweet flavour and anti-inflammatory properties, which prevent itching and irritation of the mouth.
For Cindyanto, however, he can’t go past the humble banana, SSN’s flagship product. “For me, I love bananas and eat two every day,” he laughs. “They are so full of the nutrition you need to give you energy for the day.”
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