Picture: Pexels
Pretoria - One of the largest players in the Italian citrus trading market ordered and bought round oranges from a Limpopo orange company but square oranges instead arrived in Sicily, Italy.

This is how a judge described the damages claim which came before him in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

The Italian company Oranfrizer instituted a claim in Euro against Fruitone Ltd, a farming operation in Zebediela, Limpopo. In rands the claim amounts to about R1.3 million.

The problem was that the immaculate round, orange fruit, no longer appeared round when the shipments landed in Sicily, as it was nearly all squashed and flat.

This was apparently due to how the Limpopo company packed the fruit prior to shipping. 

Judge Norman Davis remarked that what was actually to be a simple case, resulted in five years of litigation between the parties and a host of experts on the subject of packing and quality control, which were called to testify.

Representatives of the he Italian company came to South Africa in 2011 with the view to buy oranges here for resale in Italy.

They visited various citrus growers and were particularly impressed by certain farming operations in Limpopo. They subsequently signed a deal with Fruitone that they would buy oranges from them and which had to be shipped to Italy. 

The Italian company at first bought different varieties of oranges as samples and to explore the relationship between the parties. All went well at first and perfectly round oranges arrive in Italy. 

But things went wrong the following year when Fruitone sent four shipments of navel oranges to italy. These were transported on various vessels and ranged from 3200 to 7999 cartons.

It was found that the oranges in these shipments were below par. A control officer immediately identified problems regarding the stacking of the cartons of oranges in the pallets. The procedure of stacking the 15kg carton is by packing them in levels, 10 cartons per level and eight levels high per pallet. 

Instead of all the cartons being level, the lids of the uppermost cartons were not level with the bottoms of the cartons. Instead, there were gaps and the cartons on the lover level were compressed.  It was found that 93% of the oranges in the lower cartons were deformed due to crushing. 

Judge Davis was told that a large number of oranges had in fact been so compressed or crushed that they had split open. 

The Italian quality controller testified that even if an orange had not split, the cells and flesh inside suffered damage and became liable to oxidation and decay.

This in turn resulted in a shorter shelf life and susceptibility to mould. It would be unacceptable as class 1 import oranges for the European market, it was said. Pictures of samples of the squashed oranges were handed to court.

An independent quality controller was also called in to inspect the fruit and this report also indicated that the oranges were damaged. 

The Italian company meanwhile tried to recover its shipping and other costs incurred, such as storing, from the South African company. The latter denied any liability or wrongdoing.

Judge Davis, however, accepted the evidence delivered on behalf of the Italian company and found that the problem was in the packing of the oranges and the subsequent stacking of the boxes. 

He said if one had regard to the packing and stacking of these boxes,  it is no wonder that the oranges became damaged. He said no wonder the Italian expert inferred that “one need not have been an genius to figure this out.” 

He ordered the South African company to pay its Italian business partner the R1.3 million the latter claimed in expenses.