May 23, 2022
Citrus and fresh-produce exporter Lona Group uses expansion capital to make the business more climate resilient
Phatisa, together with a consortium of leading development finance institutions, has acquired a significant minority stake in South African-based citrus and fresh-produce exporter, Lona Group, for an undisclosed sum. The investment will be used as expansion capital.
The DFI co-investors are British International Investment (“BII” – formerly known as CDC Group), Norfund, and Finnfund – all of whom are also investors in Phatisa Food Fund 2, raised last year.
As one of the largest integrated fruit businesses in South Africa, the Lona Group is involved in activities across the food value chain, from: farming, aggregating and packing fruit (citrus, mango, grape, olives, and stonefruit), to: cold storage and logistics, marketing fruit for export and domestic consumption, plus fruit and vegetable processing. With line of sight across the entire value chain, Lona has tight controls, traceability, and reknowned reliability amongst customers.
Beyond its own fruit production, Lona also provides an integrated platform for other producers. Plus, the business has expanded to value-add products, such as dried fruit through its two M-Pak facilities, Veggie Crisps, and the local leader in table olives – Cape Olive. More recently, it acquired a majority stake in the Unlimited Group – an integrated producer, packer, processor, exporter and importer of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.
Established by CEO, Spencer Johnson, in 1996 from his father’s garage, Lona now exports c. 5 million cartons of citrus, in addition to a significant volume of other fresh produce each year – predominantly to the UK and Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, and increasingly to the rest of the African continent. Beyond its farming and packhouse operations in the Western and Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Zimbabwe, Lona has developed some of the most advanced automated cold storage facilities on the continent. These provide Lona and their third-party customers with a state-of-the-art and efficient cold chain, thus ensuring fruit has a longer shelf life, and reducing food waste.
It is envisaged that the consortium’s expansion capital will be used to further improve Lona’s facilities, particularly the building of new packhouses, orchard netting to protect crops from adverse weather, the development of new innovative fruit and value-add products, as well as making the business more climate resilient whilst reducing its carbon footprint.
The investment – led by Phatisa’s US$143 million Food Fund 2 – comes a week after Phatisa announced its successful exit from Côte d’Ivoire bottler Continental Beverage Company, and its investment into animal vaccine manufacturer, Deltamune, early this year.
Martin Kromat, Senior Partner at Phatisa, commented:
“Growing from humble roots, Spencer and his team have built an impressive business, which Phatisa has been attracted to for some time. Integral to our negotiations with them has been our partnership philosophy, and shared belief that we can achieve commercial outcomes while safeguarding the environment and communities which Lona touches. Together with our co-investment partners, we are genuinely excited to play our part in the business’ continued growth and domestic as well as export expansion.”
“From ‘seed to shelf’ is Lona’s philosophy. Their integration from producers to buyers is remarkable and means that fruit is carefully handled within the strictest standards, resulting in superior quality and reduced wastage,” added Phatisa Senior Associate, Ryan Burns.
Spencer Johnson, Lona CEO, replied:
“While the decision to seek expansion capital to grow Lona was relatively easy, finding the right business partner, who shared our passion and values, was more challenging. Over the course of the past year, I’ve come to know and admire the Phatisa team, plus – more recently – our other co-investors. We are proud to be partnering with such experienced, principled investors and know that we have much to share and learn from each other as we realise our vision for Lona.”
Markus Pentikäinen, Investment Manager of Finnfund, concluded:
“We are delighted to participate in this investment, which strengthens food supply, production and distribution on the African continent and further afield, all of which enhance food security – a core tenet of Finnfund’s mission. Likewise, we are excited by Lona’s commitment to institute a net zero carbon plan within the next decade, an undertaking which reinforces the integrity and sustainability of the business.”
Sarah Mathies, Head of PE Sector Funds, British International Investment, said:
“BII is thrilled to be collaborating with Lona Group management in this co-investment led by Phatisa, a long standing and trusted partner. We are confident that Lona Group’s deep market knowledge and strong growth track record, will help to strengthen the food value chain, and increase productive and inclusive economic opportunities for low-income workers, particularly women. Moreover, we are excited to support Lona Group in increasing climate adaptation initiatives that will boost business resilience and enhance sustainability within South Africa’s agriculture sector.”
Andreas Davidsen, Vice President and head of Agribusiness and Manufacturing of Norfund, added:
“We are impressed with the sophisticated supply chain Lona has developed, covering producers, logistics, and cold stores. By investing in their world-class facilities, processes and expertise, we believe we can contribute to providing food security, while creating much needed jobs, in line with Norfund’s strategy of investing in agricultural value chains”
Investment Manager Markus Pentikäinen, Finnfund, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358503397726
Communications and Marketing Manager Valpuri Mäkinen, Finnfund, email@example.com, tel. +358503842105
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