The world of citrus fruits is as varied as their use in food and beverages, in cosmetics, household cleaning products and perfumes. Oranges, lemons, limes, mandarin oranges and bergamots lend a product freshness, sweetness or sourness; they provide the primary flavor and a certain taste or scent. Grapefruit is becoming increasingly important for Symrise. Though it only represents a small proportion of the citrus fruit portfolio, its growth is particularly strong.

One challenge with this fruit, though, is that there are ­problems with supply in Florida, one of the key cultivation areas. Diseases such as citrus greening as well as severe ­hurricanes have destroyed entire harvests. In the past years, the harvest yield has averaged about 10 to 15 % of the yield 20 years ago.

For this reason, Symrise went looking for alternatives – and found one in South Africa. In the province of KwaZulu-­Natal, the company sources high-quality raw materials; it also supports sustainable development in the region through projects and close collaboration with suppliers and farmers.

Thelumusa Mkhonza
Technical Manager Symrise South Africa

Grapefruit as far as the eye can see. Stephan Räker is impressed. The view from a ridge of the Nkwaleni Valley shows how much this region has developed. The valley is one hour north of the metropolis of Durban on the east coast of South Africa. “Ten years ago, the global market percentage of grapefruit here was not even 10 %. Now it’s at 30 %,” says the Global Competence Director Citrus at Symrise. Räker and the responsible purchasers evaluate the producers of citrus oils, juices and concentrates across the continents to make their products available to the entire Symrise Group. He and Thelumusa Mkhonza are forming an impression of the plantations and production systems here in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The Technical Manager in beverage development at Symrise South Africa is also a firm believer in maintaining close contact with the producers to get to know the raw materials and their production better. “This is important because it gives us a totally different connection to our products,” says Thelumusa Mkhonza. “We offer about 200 grapefruit flavors and mixtures around the world, which are used in hundreds of pro­d­ucts such as isotonic sports drinks, mixed beer drinks, sodas or flavored waters.” In the Nkwaleni Valley, Thelumusa Mkhonza, who studied food technology, is especially interested in the Marsh variety of white grapefruit. In contrast to the pink variety, which is usually found in supermarkets around the world, the White Marsh tastes more bitter and sour.

The two Symrise citrus experts visit Intathakusa Farm, where the harvest is in full swing. It’s loud; the pickers are chatting across the rows of trees, and the white sacks are filling quickly. Thelumusa Mkhonza is talking to the workers about the grapefruit. “It’s very interesting to sample the raw materials right from the trees,” she says as she plucks a ripe fruit, cuts it in half with a knife and tries a piece. “The quality of the grapefruit is very important to us because it also determines the flavor, which is key.”

We offer about 200 grapefruit ­flavors and mixtures around the world, which are used in hundreds of products.Thelumusa Mkhonza, Technical Manager Symrise South Africa

Together with her husband Sibusio and ­employees, Smangele Gumede ensures the high quality of their products.

The farm is a good partner for this. It has been named Business of the Year in the region numerous times. Its manager, Smangele Gumede, has even received an award as best female entrepreneur. She started the company in 2007 with her husband Sibusio. They now produce citrus fruits, sugar cane and vegetables, which are sold around the world. “For us, the biggest challenge is the climate,” she says. The 57-year-old farmer takes off her wide-brimmed hat to wipe sweat off her brow. It’s midday, and the thermometer once again reads 35 degrees Celsius. “It hasn’t rained a lot in the past years, which means we have to rely on irrigation,” adds her husband, whose father plowed fields using oxen. The two split the work: He is mostly out in the plantations while she manages the company from the office. Cultivating grapefruit is worth the effort for them and many other farmers in the area who have already switched from sugar cane to citrus fruits. Most of the fruit, including those grown by the Gumedes, end up in supermarkets in Japan and Europe, for example. But the farmers are glad that products which are unsuitable for sale in supermarkets can be sent for juice production instead. “That’s good, because it makes us less dependent on one buyer,” says Sibusio Gumede.

When you observe the two of them between the straight rows of their grapefruit trees, it’s clear how important their work is to them. They joke with the pickers, who have worked for them for years – some of them year-round, some of them seasonally. Time and again, the Gumedes pick a fruit off a tree, sniff its peel, test its taste. “We eat at least one grapefruit every day,” Smangele Gumede answers when asked whether she still likes the fruit. It’s important to her that she identifies with her work and the farm. “Business is going well, demand is rising. That makes us very happy.”

Gysbert Potgieter, Technical Director of the fruit processor Nkwaleni Processors, is always close to the product.

Shortage of new recruits is a major challenge

For Gysbert Potgieter, who is leading the tour of the farms for the Symrise workers, these two farmers are a prime example. “You need to really know what you’re doing because the climate and the soils here are unique – and you have to be patient,” says the Technical Director at the fruit processing company Nkwaleni Processors, which has been supplying citrus concentrates and oils to Symrise for years. The factory is a special case; half of it belongs to different local farmers and the other half belongs to the Böcker Group from Buxtehude, Germany. The Group manages the factory’s processes.

Potgieter sees the difficulty in finding the next generation of farmers as one of the major challenges. Many young people would rather work in the cities than take on the hard work of agriculture. (More on the generation gap in agriculture on page 46) “The citrus industry here had hit rock bottom. Zululand is not the easiest place to have a good life,” says Potgieter. “We have a very high unemployment rate as well as the highest HIV infection rate, and most families depend on one income. That person sometimes has to earn enough to take care of a dozen family members.”

To him, the recent cultivation of grapefruit represents an opportunity to create something long-term. He counts on people who had previously not necessarily thought about farming. “South Africa is currently undergoing a land reform that allows a lot of people to get land on which they can plant something. This has led to hundreds of hectares of grapefruit trees being planted.” However, these new farmers often don’t know much about the methods of good agriculture. “That’s where we want to help: with agricul­-tural know-how; with our experience with regulations and laws; with sales opportunities,” Potgieter explains. For this, the com­pany is planning to convert an old farm belonging to the Böcker Group into a demonstration farm, and a training academy will be created there as well. Here the farmers will be able to learn everything they need to run their own farms, from the basics of farming to marketing and management.

Every day, Nkwaleni Processors receives fresh fruit by the ton that is then processed into juice and oils.

“We need to be able to count on the cultivation, harvest and processing being carried out properly.”

Stephan Räker,
Global Competence Director Citrus at Symrise

Thelumusa Mkhonza, Technical Manager in beverage ­development at Symrise South Africa discusses fruit ­quality with Gysbert Potgieter, Technical Director at the fruit processor Nkwaleni Processors.

Improving livelihoods in village communities

Symrise is also involved in the academy project and will send experts to teach the new generation of farmers about the end products and the particular requirements of the raw materials. “We want to be a strong partner and help improve the livelihoods in the villages here,” says Stephan Räker. “That way we can ensure that the products are consistently high-quality, and we can reliably purchase our natural raw materials.” “The involvement of Symrise suits us very well,” Gysbert Potgieter agrees. “We share the same views on sustainability.”

On the way from the plantations to the Nkwaleni Processors plant, he stops repeatedly to show Thelumusa Mkhonza and Stephan Räker abandoned plantations as well as farms that are running well. When the group arrives at the factory, there are already trucks lined up outside the gate. During the harvest season, farmers come from morning to evening, bringing oranges, lemons, and of course grapefruits. “We test the fruit directly to assess its quality and freshness. When it’s brought to us right after harvesting, it’s nice and firm, and the juice content is high,” says Gysbert Potgieter. “That decreases by 5 % each day.”

He hurries through production with his guests, showing them how the fruit rolls down from the trucks into a small pit from which it is transported on a belt to the washing station. Next, the juice is pressed and concentrated in four stages of thermal evaporation. “Afterward the fruit juice weighs a quarter of what it did previously. That means less material we have to send around the world, which cuts down on CO2 emissions,” Potgieter explains the process. In a different area of the small factory, oil is extracted from peels in a centrifuge.

The fruits delivered by truck...

are unloaded under the watchful eye of the employees...

and transported directly by conveyor belt to the processing plant.

SymTrap® technology ensures sustainable use

Symrise is directly involved in the last step of processing. The water that remains following the concentration process maintains a lot of the flavor. To make use of this, the company installed the SymTrap® technology that was developed in Holzminden – and was incidentally the first plant in Africa to do so. The technology extracts flavors from the aqueous phases, which are the watery elements of the juice. “An important side effect of this is that we can use the water that has been cleaned through this process to wash the fruit,” says Gysbert Potgieter. “That’s good for the environment and also saves us the cost of disposal.”

For Stephan Raker, working closely with Nkwaleni Processors is important. “We need to be able to count on the cultivation, harvest and processing being carried out properly.” This is also monitored from the outside: The supplier regularly undergoes audits by the independent Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA), whose guidelines conform with the international SAI platform. In-depth discussions about the entire process chain work best in a close partnership, Räker emphasizes. This requires a great deal of trust and reliability. For example, Symrise purchases a majority of the oils that Nkwaleni Processors produces. In return, the company is closely involved with the South African processor’s product development as well as the agriculture.

The direct link to the farmers through their shares in the factory is a big advantage for Potgieter. “This means we always have enough raw materials and the farmers have a say in our decision-making.” This direct line ensures that specifications can be more closely adhered to since matters such as irrigation amounts and harvest times are discussed. Symrise is thus able to fulfill spe­­cific cus­tomer requests precisely. “In the long run, we can also influence our need for specific fruit varieties or qualities,” says Räker. “That gives us a lot more flexibility with regard to the high-quality, sustainable integration of our natural raw materials into our portfolio.”

Find more on this topic at:

A grapefruit is a hybrid of a sweet orange and a pomelo. It blends fruitiness with a slight bitterness, which makes the taste of this popular breakfast fruit so special. It is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, and takes its name from the way the fruits cluster on the trees in bunches, like grapes.

The primary cultivation areas are in China and the USA. A variety of types are cultivated in South Africa, from the white Marsh and Duncan varieties to the red Star Ruby and Red Ruby. Some plantations date back to the 1970s and still produce fruit once a year. Newly planted trees take about five to eight years before they can first be commercially harvested. It is currently difficult to get seedlings at all since there is a long waiting period.

Sowing the seeds of opportunity

Earning a living through agriculture is a tough job in many parts of the world. This is one of the reasons why young people all over the world are often not willing to take over their parents’ farms. They frequently move to the cities and towns looking for other jobs. This is particularly a big problem in less developed economies; the population disappears from the small agricultural villages, and with it the expertise that is transmitted from one generation to the next. In the past few years, development in the agricultural sector has intensified, which is why so many programs for attracting new young workers were started. Heinrich Schaper, President Flavor, explains the importance of this commitment: “In value chains, where Symrise can make a significant difference we are deploying our efforts to support knowledge transfer between the generations. This allows us to create new opportunities for agriculture, which brings us access to natural, high-quality products.” In addition to the planned academy in the grapefruit province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa (page 42) additional initiatives in Madagascar, Brazil, India and the Philippines illustrate this.


At first, the idea was to improve productivity and quality. This led to further sustainable development initiatives, culminating in our latest project collaborating with German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), Unilever, Save the Children and Kellogg’s. The backward integration of vanilla into the Symrise value chain has transformed into a social commitment in Madagascar that is unprecedented in the world of sustainable development. Essentially, the original aim was to acquire high-­quality beans that were traceable and environmentally cultivated to best fulfill customer desires. At the same time, Symrise took agricultural practices to a new level in the SAVA region on the north of the island country.

The company improved living conditions for farmers in many ways, one of which was expanding health care options. Numerous other measures ensure that around 8,000 farmers in 75 communities can do their jobs better. This way, the sector is increasingly attracting more young workers. Symrise demonstrates sustainable agricultural practices on demonstration fields and in special schools, and supports 12,000 students with basic education – by supporting 75 elementary schools and many more teachers – in the region where 80 % of the world’s vanilla is harvested. Another important point is that, through coaching and the provision of seedlings, farmers can diversify their income by growing cloves, ginger and vetiver. Alongside the GIZ and a variety of business partners, Symrise is bringing its experience to additional projects – not only in Madagascar but, for instance, in India
and the Philippines, too. This is how they help prepare 31,000 farmers, 40 % of whom are women or young people, for the future.


There aren’t many places on the planet with higher levels of biodiversity than the Amazon area of Brazil. But this diversity, which is so important for the world’s climate and the lives of the people who live in the rainforest, is in danger. To push for positive development, Symrise opened an office in Benevides, a town in the state of Pará, in 2015. In this way, the company created jobs and increased at the same time the demand for sustainably produced fruit and vegetables from local producers. More than 2,000 families profit from this.

In this way, Symrise is boosting a whole sector that is suffering from worsening employment conditions in this region. With their social and biodiversity-focused approach, which supports both nature and people, the company is working with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and Brazil’s largest cosmetics group, Natura Cosméticos. Together, the partners are creating a system that offers more jobs to local people and focuses on the environmentally-friendly and fair use of natural resources. This is what it looks like in numbers: In September 2020, 80 % of the 14 participating cooperatives will be certified by the UEBT (Union for Ethical BioTrade) and the average income of all cooperatives will increase by 20 %.