Neil Truter is Vanguard’s Quality Assurance and Grower Relations Manager in South Africa. Neil has been a member of the Vanguard team for 16 years. He is an integral part of the Vanguard team building our supply base in South Africa and Egypt and assuring the quality of the fruit that our customers demand. He logs many kilometers visiting growers and keeps our supplies flowing smoothly from the farms to our customers. He is also quite the video artist … you can see some of his work here.
Let’s get to know Neil a little more!
VG: Has South Africa always been home or did you relocate for work ?
Neil: I was born in Cape Town and grew up in Paarl situated in the heart of the Cape winelands. It is the 3rd oldest town in South Africa and got its name from the granite rock that shines like a pearl when wet. Today it is well known for producing some of the best finest wines in the world.
VG: Have you always been destined for fresh produce? How did your career begin?
Neil: I was always interested in the Agricultural sector. By the time I went to grade 8, I knew I wanted to enroll in an Agricultural school, but ended up in business school. I then studied agricultural management and started farming for 4 years. After that I joined the Perishable Product Export Control Board (PPECB) as a Quality Assurance Inspector for two and a half years before joining Vanguard in 2005.
VG: We are well into managing in a global pandemic – what have been the greatest challenges? Any positive outcomes of a change in SOP?
Neil: Like they say in the fruit business, the only constant is change! We have adapted quickly and effectively to every change thrown at us in the last eighteen months, be it a shortage or oversupply of fruit, new packaging, change in steri protocols to existing markets, or even markets closing on short notice. I reckon working in such an environment for so many years makes one flexible and it makes it easier to adjust to the constant changes in our business.
That said, we still had a few new challenges after the pandemic started. For me it was traveling and networking. A lot of companies closed for outside visitors and this put a lot of pressure on traveling and procurement forcing our team to find alternative methods to safeguard our customers’ interests and to insure we shipped the right fruit. South Africa went into a full lock down for the first few months of the pandemic and without being able to fly, I had to drive and manage my way through various roadblocks, documentation requirements, and curfews. This resulted in many extra kilometers being driven, but I was able to gain a deeper appreciation of our beautiful country by driving all the way from the South to the North and back many times over the course of our season. Luckily today things are pretty much back to normal for most of our suppliers except for the additional paperwork and masks. We are now on lockdown level 1 so flights are permitted and that makes life a lot easier.
VG: Whose day do you impact on a regular basis? Who hears from you the most?
Neil: We are tight knit team globally and inside our South African office, and I work especially closely with Henk Wever and Pierre Coetzee. We plan on a daily basis to ensure that we meet our growers’ and our customers’ needs a requirements, including supply side, packaging, shipping, and all other matters needed to precisely and flawlessly execute our business. We handle all major fruit types from South Africa and Egypt and they overlap each other regularly. Things tend to get really busy when this happens so this type of close communication and detailed planning is crucial.
VG: What has been a memorable moment of your time with Vanguard? After 16 years I’m sure there are more than a few memorable moments!
Neil: Like you say, there has been quite a few!
VG: What does your free time look like! Spending time with family, friends?
Neil: Being on the road and away from home so much, I do like spending quality time with my family and friends of course! But in looking after myself there is nothing like taking my adventure motorcycle and a tent to go and explore the roads less travelled around South Africa.
VG: Do you have a favorite produce item? If yes how do you prefer to eat it (Snack? Signature Recipe?)
Neil: I am a simple man when it comes to fruit. I like it the way nature intended it. Tree ripened, sweet, and juicy. If I must choose, it will be a citrus type. Either a nice Star ruby or a sweet mandarin type of soft citrus. Like we say in South Africa if you want veggies, eat chicken, it’s better 😊.