Smart Farmer: Cristina Kress

Cristina Kress became CEO of her parents' fruit business in Paraguay aged 20. In the 10 years since, she has grown not just the business, but an entire town, providing education, healthcare and work for generations to come.

Kress's parents moved from Germany to Paraguay in 1977, looking for a farming existence without the harsh winters they'd had to face back home. Her father pitched his tent in a rainforest (“it was like the Wild West!” says Kress), and over the next 20 years, he built up 7,000 hectares of agricultural land, farming citrus, soy and corn.

“Dad soon realized the citrus fruits brought in the most income,” says Kress, “and that if he could make juice from them and sell it, it would differentiate him in the market. So he built a juice plant, and founded Frutika.” Shortly after, Kress's father died in an accident on the farm aged 49. Her mother took over the young business.

From biologist to businesswoman

“My mother was a biologist,” says Kress, “but turned out to be an excellent businesswoman. She trained smallholder farmers all over the country to grow oranges, grapefruit, mandarins and lemons, providing a secure income for poor communities. She expanded the farm to 19,000 hectares, and built housing and healthcare facilities for many of the people who worked for us.” Over the years, those facilities slowly grew into a village, and today Kressburgo is a fully-fledged town with 4,000 inhabitants, 500 of whom work for the business.

“There is growing demand for organic juice concentrates”

- Cristina Kress, Frutika

“The best job in the world!”

Kress was studying in Switzerland in 2008 when she received a phone call from her mother. Her mother explained she could no longer run the farm on her own. She asked Kress to decide between continuing her studies (in which case she would sell the business) and coming home to help. “It was an easy choice,” says Kress. “Farming is the best job in the world!”

By investing the same drive, passion and flair for innovation as her parents, Kress has built up a network of 4,000 fruit farmers in the last 10 years. “We now export our own-brand packaged juice to Chile, Uruguay, Taiwan and South Korea, as well as oils and concentrates to juice-making brands in Europe.”

Learning from inexperience

Perhaps the toughest thing she's had to deal with was her lack of experience. “I loved it when people asked to speak to 'the boss',” she laughs, “But I knew very little about the business at the beginning. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my mother, colleagues, suppliers and clients, although a few of them did take advantage of my inexperience.”

In addition to growing produce for the juice market, Kress has built a bottling plant for natural mineral water and her next step will be to invest in more technology. “And I want to grow more fruit organically. Some markets, like Brazil and Argentina, are tough in this respect – they have become commoditized and are resistant to change – but there is growing demand for organic concentrates and other organic products, especially from Europe.”

His first robot

Mechatronics and robotics

Kress is also investing in the expansion of education in Kressburgo. “I want to 'grow' education, so we can ‘harvest’ development,” she says. “My father created the first primary school here and now I have been able to invest USD 1 million in the town’s first private school for elementary level right through to higher education.”
Offering mechatronics and robotics alongside a regular curriculum, the school, named for her father, will offer a technical degree program with an emphasis on agriculture.

“We are currently looking for donations from companies so we can hire more teachers. When it was time for me to go to high school, I had to move to Asunción, 500 kilometers away, and only saw my mother twice a month. I don’t want that for any children.”