Deon Vermaak, Dew Crisp

Covid changes lettuce consumption in South Africa

Dew Crisp is a major lettuce supplier in South Africa with two operating centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town where it processes and packs lettuce, vegetables and herbs. The impact of Covid and the series of lockdowns and curfews has been disastrous on the hospitality industry and restaurant sector.

“We have seen our volumes take beating upon beating. It comes right and then curfews are introduced again,” says Deon Vermaak, national head supply chain and QSR at Dewcrisp.

The area planted for retail pillow packs, a slow category at the moment, has reduced by 15 to 20% this summer (photos supplied by Dew Crisp)

Deon explains that the 9 o’clock curfew that recently ended basically scrapped the dinner rush hour at sitdown restaurants, reducing demand for fancy leaf lettuce like red and green Salanova lettuce or rocket.

At the start of the first lockdown last year their growers had to plough in dozens of hectares of lettuce and only in June did it pick up when drive-throughs were re-allowed. The hospitality industry around events like the recent British Lions rugby tour is still non-existent, Deon says.

Dew Crisp's own production (as above) is supplemented by more than a dozen growers in different provinces

Planning for their planting (they plant every week for eight months of the year) has meant a tremendous amount of back and forth between themselves and their clients as Covid regulations change.

Quick service restaurants a mainstay for Iceberg
Dew Crisp is a supplier of lettuce and cabbage for all the big names in the quick service restaurant industry, who are jostling to get consumers back into the restaurants through price promotions.

Right: Iceberg, a stable and consistent category

Much of the hectarage grown by Dew Crisp’s growers is Iceberg lettuce and cabbage (for coleslaw) for the quick service restaurant sector.

“Iceberg has always been a stable category, but lockdown curfews throw you off balance from time to time. Pre-Covid, Iceberg was a banker, it’s consistent, you could plan around it with little margin of error. You just have to be a bit clever these days to plan around lockdowns and curfews, although we don’t think there’ll be another lockdown. The needle moves backwards and forwards.”

Increased popularity of specialty lettuce heads
“We have seen a decline in the fancy leaf category (red and green) packed into retail pillow packs. It is currently a very slow category because consumers are under pressure. At the same time we have seen an uptake in lettuce heads, particularly in specialty heads like the Crunchita heads, baby gems or Iceberg heads. Consumers have taken a bit of a liking to lettuce heads.”

Winter salad production by Dew Crisp growers in North West Province and Mpumalanga

They have also noted increased consumption of spinach and cabbage heads, a move towards more unprocessed lettuces and vegetables which last longer and allow consumers to reduce the frequency of their shopping trips.

“We’ve probably reduced our hectarage for the retail pillow pack industry by as much as 15% to 20% this summer,” he adds.

“The varieties that we use are Dutch varieties from Rijk Zwaan,” he says, grown by more than a dozen growers in Gauteng (Bapsfontein and Muldersdrift) and in Philippi, Western Cape.

For more information:
Deon Vermaak
Dew Crisp
Tel: +27 11 840 1600

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